It’s better to keep it dry

Wide Angle Vintage Rustic Shabby Wooden Background. Grunge Old Wood Peeling Paint Isolated Wall Texture close up. Panoramic Wallpaper or Web banner With Copy Space for design Not Released LUMIKK555 / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Case study No.323, titled “The Mold Amongst Us,” has us examining the situation facing a Mr. Fred Ferguson.

Known as “Fungus Freddie” by his closer associates, Mr. Ferguson’s solution to pretty well any conflict is simply to douse the concern with water.

Got ants in the house? Spray ‘em with water. Got a headache or runny nose? Run your head under the tap. Got a backyard deck which regularly sees leaf and various tree-seed matter propelling down upon it? Hose it down.

So, besides having mushrooms growing under the kitchen sink, and family members regularly exhibiting flat hair days, Freddie owns a backyard deck with at least eight types of moss growing in between the planks. Although these moss species have garnered the interest of the local environmental institute, since the growths include the silene stenophylla, a moss dating back to the Paleolithic age, and otherwise thought to be extinct, the moisture contained by the moss – along with Fred’s regular waterings – have unfortunately encouraged premature joist rot.

As a result, a backyard deck that is only 20 years old will need to be replaced. Regular treated lumber, as opposed to the 60-year treated lumber used on wood foundations, is guaranteed to last 40 years, provided homeowners follow a pretty basic list of precautionary measures.

Rules No. 1 and No. 2: Seal any sawn edges with an end-cut preservative, then seal the project in its entirety with a paint or stain. Then, maintain this painted or stained finish with follow-up coatings every two-to-three years.

What to avoid? Treated posts should not be positioned in water (in the case of a dock), or buried in the ground. In other words, treated lumber should last 40 years if you can manage to keep it relatively dry.

Now, in an environment such as ours, where three consecutive days of sun is basically regarded as a divine intervention, how does a homeowner possibly keep their deck structure dry?

Well— achieving dry may not be always possible, however, there are installation methods or practices that if followed, can at least divert water or moisture so that it’s not pooling around your lumber.

Good practice No. 1: Avoid surface-screwing your treated decking planks. There’s a reason why lumber deterioration often starts with a black mouldy substance surrounding each screw, with hairline cracks radiating out from the screw heads. That’s because surface screws not only create mini pools of water around the screw insertion, but essentially funnel moisture into the core of the wood.

Avoiding this scenario means following either the deck-track, or Camo installation procedure.

The deck-track is a 40-inch length of perforated steel that gets nailed along your 2×10 or 2×8 joists, allowing the installer to fasten the decking planks from below.

The Camo system is a clamp type of tool that works in conjunction with a cordless drill (or corded, if you’re still doing things the old-fashioned way) and directs the camo screw into each side of the decking plank. Either way, surface water simply drains off the board, and you’re left with a beautiful, unblemished finish.

Good practice No. 2: Protect the 2×10 framework underneath with a joist guard. Available in four- or nine-inch strips of plastic, a joist-guard membrane protects the edge of the 2×10 framing lumber, ledger planks, and supporting beams underneath, from moisture, which would have been a big help to someone like Fungus Freddie. Mould and tree seedlings don’t stick so well to plastic, with this plastic shield allowing the owner to more easily brush out various tree debris from between the decking planks.

Good practice No. 3: Avoid your decking 4×4 or 6×6 supporting posts from coming in direct contact with the soil, or concrete pillars. Soil and concrete both absorb moisture, which will be passed on to any dry thing coming into contact with it.

So, use steel U-channels, or adjustable U-brackets to make that moisture break between products.

With these good practices now in Freddy’s toolbox, Case No. 323 was closed.

Good building.

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

There’s no need to stay naughty

Case file No. 624 has us examining the renovation challenge facing a Mr. Jack ‘Naughty’ Pine.

The naughty nickname references Jack’s behaviour, as opposed to what would normally be the ‘knotty’ species, and was earned in his early years as a mischievous youngster by Jack tossing eggs at neighbours’ vehicles while hiding in the family’s roadside recycle bin.

If a neighbour should scold Jack, or report him to his parents, or the authorities, Jack would double up on his mischievousness by pooping on their doorstep in the early morning before he embarked on the school bus.

Jack was truly naughty.

Unfortunately, and now a man well into his 40s, Jack has done little to improve his nickname from the original naughty, to the more appropriate knotty, and if unsettled at a party or gathering, either due to the host serving a cheap wine, or playing anything other than 70s and 80s rock tunes, may unceremoniously perform a not so generous upper-decker (pooping in the tank, as opposed to the bowl) in the master bathroom, before exiting the scene.

So, while Jack remains naughty, he is also faced with having to replace the several 10-foot porch posts that support a roof over what is a beautiful perimeter deck on his century home. The porch posts are constructed of 6×6 rough-cut timbers, which had been wrapped with a 1X8 pine planks, then painted.

Although there are no issues with the 6×6 timbers, the finishing planks are showing severe wear.

In most cases, the planks have rotted at the base, with the boards displaying cracks and a surface disrupted by crackled and peeling paint.

Jack’s solution?

With 12 posts to replace, and staying true to his forefathers, who were most likely woodsmen at some point in history, Jack found himself at the building centre order desk, looking to purchase 48 pieces of 1x8x10-foot, dressed knotty pine.

When questioned about this uncommonly large purchase of pine lumber, Jack relayed to the salesperson the situation, and his desire to re-wrap the deck posts with something similar to what was used originally.

Note— there are some things worth keeping original. If you damage the driver’s side rear-view mirror on your vintage ‘65 Corvette, you replace it with another ‘65 Corvette, driver’s side rear-view mirror. If you happen to own an original Monet, Water Lilies painting, but prefer the flowers be blue, rather than white, you don’t touch it up.

Conversely, if you own wood-wrapped deck columns, and they need replacement, you have to realize it’s time to get out of the wood maintenance business.

Essentially, choosing wood to re-wrap a post, especially one that’ll require paint, will eventually re-create all the rotting, cracking, and paint peeling issues being experienced today. Plus, having to touch up the bleeding knots, because even the best knot sealers can’t regularly stop knot bleed, combined with annual paintings in order to keep these columns looking pristine, will be another chore in your life.

If you own a home, especially an old one, the key to happiness in these busy times is limiting the to-do list.

What about the fact we’re losing a little bit of the originality? Forget about it.

If the builders of the day would have had the option of finishing and sealing a post with a composite or PVC-wrap type product, thereby avoiding maintenance and replacement for the next 50 years, don’t you think they would have made that enlightened decision?

Aluminum columns are the least expensive choice, with the added bonus of offering structural strength. PVC, two-piece wraps are a simple fix, although they’re limited to nine feet in length.

However, for a century old, colonial type home, the smooth finish of a composite wrap, along with its various crown and base finishes, is probably the best choice.

With this new information, our Mr. Jack Pine walked away from being the top pine purchaser for the month, and made the switch to composite. Case No. 624 closed.

Good building.

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

Building your own courtyard

The podium with the two chairs on which Heads of State listen to the national anthems during welcoming ceremonies are seen in the courtyard of the Chancellery in Berlin, prior to the first visit of Moldova’s Prime Minister, on July 16, 2019. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Today, we plan our courtyard.

Why a Courtyard? Because it’s the next best thing to constructing a moat, which would be fantastic. However, the challenge of keeping water in the moat to a consistent level, possible mechanical issues with the drawbridge, and the permit process, will in all likelihood be problematic.

As a result, we’ll be constructing the second-most-awesome type of residential appendage on the list of “things that make for a great home,” that being a courtyard.

What does one do in a courtyard that can’t be accomplished on a backyard deck, or front porch?

Why— holding court of course, reading poetry, or simply relaxing in this enclosed and serene space.

And, it’s the term “enclosed” that really defines a courtyard, and what gives it its inherent value, compared to the free for all, open atmosphere of a deck or porch.

Now, you may ask yourself, “Does my home really require a courtyard?”

To which I would answer, survival will most likely be achieved without one. However, would your home benefit from an extra bathroom in the master bedroom? Or, physical fitness area? Or, computer room? Or, any kind of more personal, designated space in the home?

Perhaps yes.

Now, if your home is surrounded with regular perimeter fencing, could this enclosed area be somewhat defined as a courtyard? No, that’s simply referred to as a backyard with fencing, which would otherwise qualify practically any area as a courtyard.

A courtyard most often occupies its own area, essentially creating a space within a space, and by definition has a clear separation from the outside world regarding its level of privacy and its contents.

Basically, the walls surrounding your courtyard should be at least six feet high, and be made of stone, or a heavy duty type wooden fence panel where the fencing planks are tightly installed against one another. Outsiders should not be able to peek into your courtyard, or easily view it from the exterior.

Part of the grandeur or mystery of the courtyard is being able to open the gate to a new area, or private space not commonly viewed by the passerby.

The floor of your courtyard should be of interlocking brick, slabs of rock and pea stone, or decorative concrete patio slabs. The courtyard should be free of the mechanical noise created by lawn mowers and whipper snippers, so no grass.

What does one put in a courtyard? All of your favorite things.

Traditionally, and if space permits, there will be a centrepiece. This can be anything from a raised stone planter box with a flowering tree, to a traditional concrete well, a fixture that served many a medieval courtyard. Or, if you’re of Greek or Italian heritage, the statuettes of half-dressed ladies collecting water by the shoreline is always a crowd pleaser.

Are courtyards, due to the stone flooring, and desire for serenity, to be considered no-child zones? Quite the opposite. Although the courtyard serves well as a place to read or write, it should also be considered a safe zone. Simple child’s play is to be encouraged, with an errant soccer ball breaking a cherubs arm, or decapitating one of the statuettes, only increasing its value.

The balance of the space can be filled with benches, lounge chairs, and a raised, bar type of table for enjoying a beverage or playing checkers.

With four walls of either stone or wood, and a patio slab floor, what goes overhead? Traditionally, nothing but clear sky, with the walls themselves providing some shade.

However, in order to make the space a little more useable in our climate zone, you may want to consider covering a portion of the courtyard space with a SunLouver pergola, a unit where the roof louvers are adjustable, adapting to both sun and rain.

Where to build your courtyard? Front-lawn courtyards can be a little ominous, but it still presents a great spot. Otherwise, choose any area in close proximity to the home.

Good building.

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

Stay out of the sun

I was always intrigued by the Trivial Pursuit question, “Where are the most expensive seats found at the Plaza Mexico, the world’s largest bull fighting ring?”

You may have guessed the best seats in the house would be located near the cantina, providing guests with much-needed hydration. Or, in close proximity to the washroom facilities, VIP lounge, or sombrero and sunglasses sales booths. With the best seats usually placing guests closer to the action, you may have also guessed the most privileged seating to be ringside, where the splattering of blood and mud across your face and clothing would warmly embrace you as part of the spectacle.

Regardless of all those possibilities, the answer was “in the shade.”

So, in mid-afternoon, full-sun, 110 F Mexico heat, where do those sports enthusiasts with a few extra pesos want to be? Not in a hospital suffering from heat stroke.

Which, brings us to today’s topic of avoiding dehydration, wrinkly skin, and any number of serious medical conditions, by enjoying a sunny day from the safe confines of a shaded porch or backyard deck.

Now, Cornwall and area’s sun may not have near the impact of a Mexican sun, but even in our climate, sunburn and the resulting skin damage can result after only 15 minutes of full sun exposure.

So, with many a backyard deck to be constructed this summer, strategizing on how you plan on enjoying the warm weather, while avoiding the sun, will be best brainstormed while your deck concept is still on paper.

The best-case scenario would have your deck plan include some type of permanent roof structure.

Table umbrellas and self-standing umbrella structures are good between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., when the angle of the sun’s rays are practically streaming from directly overhead.

Otherwise, and as the sun shifts from its high-noon position, umbrellas tend to shade everything except the people seated underneath them. Now, you could simply move the seating to where the shade is, or risk lower-back strain, and a few extra scratches on your new composite decking, by tugging the 50- to 70-pound umbrella base into a new position every 30 minutes— but that would hardly be practical.

Retractable awnings? A good option on a smaller scale, but because the unit attaches to the home, you will be somewhat limited size-wise. Weaknesses to a retractable awning? The “retractable” means moving parts, which take time to engage and close, with the possibility of mechanical failure always looming. Furthermore, awnings aren’t snow resistant, if the plans are to shelter your hot tub for winter use. And, they’re deathly afraid of a strong wind – perhaps not to the same degree as a deck umbrella, which will simply take flight and land somewhere in the united counties – but winds can seriously damage an awning nevertheless.

So, with no concerns regarding having to close things up, retract things back, or shift things around, homeowners should consider a permanent-shade type of structure. Essentially, this will require either extending the roof, similar to a carport or extended garage type of construction, or erecting the latest in deck shading, that being a pergola with operating louvers.

The bonus to a roof extension is the chance of rain or snow making its way through to the deck drops to zero, with lighting being provided by a series of skylights, or a string of electrical fixtures. Plus, a permanent roof extension allows you the freedom of leaving the cushioned furniture as is, saving you the task of having to constantly remove and reinstall cushions at the first sign of rain, a real pain in the butt over time, even with deck boxes.

If you’re thinking a more simple structure than a roof extension is more in line with your budget, then consider the “Sun Louver” pergola, an aluminum product where the louvers can tip downward, offering shade or protection from the rain.

Next week, further sun-avoiding strategies.

Good building.

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

Getting ready to play with fire

A backyard fire pit burns in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. FILE PHOTO

Today we investigate the possibility of operating an open backyard fire pit.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why put all this thought into what’s essentially going to be a campfire in the backyard for the kiddies to enjoy roasting marshmallows, and a hub where the adults can dismiss their supervisory roles while solving life’s issues over a few light ales?

Because, just like we need signs that say, “Speed Limit 100 km/h,” “Don’t Walk on the Grass,” or “Don’t reach into cage to touch gorillas,” relying on the element of common sense when it comes to human behaviour has proven to be unsuccessful.

So, like everything else, including the operation of a backyard fire pit, you’re going to have to get a permit, and follow the rules.

What’s the consequence to not wanting to follow what is basically a pretty lenient set of restrictions? Well— nobody’s going to tear your arm out of its socket and hand it back to you after gnawing on the forearm proves distasteful, but the monetary fine will certainly put a damper on your evening. Plus, restrictions and regulations may vary from city to county.

So, be sure to check with your local fire department regarding the safe operation of an open fire pit, and its bylaws.

The first step to backyard burning, other than operating a simple gas or charcoal barbecue, is to contact your local fire services office, and to request an open air burn permit application. The permit (for Cornwall and area) is going to cost you $100, which will be valid for three years. So, a pretty cheap application fee considering the fine for hosting an illegal burn is about $200 per infraction.

Essentially, the permit application is going to insist on a few conditions.

First, your fire pit will have to be located somewhere on your property that’s at least 20 feet from the property line, and any combustible structure. Trees and bushes, although obviously combustible, that encroach the 20-foot barrier, won’t necessarily sink this project. Unless of course, and upon inspection, the fire inspector deems you’re locating of the fire pit under an overhanging tree limb, is a site choice that needs reconsideration.

However, if you can’t strategize a fire pit location that keeps your flame at least 20 feet from your neighbour, or 20 feet from your home, or the extension you added to the deck, then you might as well shelve this initiative.

Next condition, your fire pit cannot be something that by definition, or sight, is homemade. So, the collecting or rocks to form a circle, a longtime tradition that created many a fond memory of outdoor camp adventures, which unfortunately and conversely led to even more forest fires, is not permitted.

Nor is the always classy, oil drum cut in half, which within a year usually rusts out at the bottom, then topples over, spilling hot embers onto the shoes of those unsuspecting marshmallow roasters not prepared for a quick retreat.

As a result, getting permit approval will require you procuring an official steel fire bowl, or approved stone type of outdoor fire pit or cooking grill.

Once you’ve solved the location issue and chosen an approved fire-pit unit, it’s pretty well clear sailing from this point.

Other conditions to burning will include having a readily available means to extinguish the fire in case of emergency. A simple garden hose will qualify as an extinguisher, providing that when Uncle Fred’s pant leg becomes engulfed in flames, and people are panicking, engaging the hose doesn’t mean having to first search for it in the darkness of the back shed.

Finally, part of the fire pit requirement is to notify your neighbours of your intention to openly burn, which can be a delicate subject to broach if existing relationships aren’t so great. So, be sure to get along with your neighbours, don’t ever blow smoke their way, and as a foolproof method to keeping the peace, invite them over for the first burning.

Good building.

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