How to create and sustain basement life

Last week, we discussed the importance of ensuring your basement space is capable of remaining dry, essentially step one in the creation of a new living area.

Basically, your concrete walls will need to be impermeable to water and moisture entry, or minimally have some type of system in place to deal with water penetration should your foundation be susceptible to such occurrences. Without a dry environment, your basement is best to remain as storage space, and an area to hone one’s slap shot.

With step one secured, let’s move on to step two, making this space livable.

Besides some of the obvious necessities of life (oxygen, nutrition, beer fridge, and the such), living in a basement will be a whole lot more pleasant with two key features— them being headroom, and natural light.

Headroom is especially important, and can present quite the challenge if the original builder had no foresight of this area accommodating life for anybody other than those under the age of eight, or cats. With furnace ductwork and plumbing pipes travelling under the joist system, and/or support beams being spaced at 12- to 14-foot intervals, trying to locate a pool table, or even a safe walking area for those with the option of careers in basketball, can be a problem.

If budgetary constraints are nonexistent, then the answer to mechanical height issues can be simple, either dig the basement down two feet deeper, or raise the home two feet. However, this could cost you in the neighborhood of $100,000, which might be a little much if you’re simply looking for a spot to accommodate your stairmaster and a few dumbbells.

So, let’s look at re-routing the ductwork and plumbing. Our goal will be to remove it completely from the common living area, or minimally push these mechanical systems out towards the walls, creating ample headroom in the middle of the room.

These changes will require the insight of a professional heating/cooling specialist, and a plumber. Air can be pushed up, down, and around, so the re-routing of ductwork is usually possible. Poop and water, on the other hand, rely on gravity, and have to flow downward, at a specific slope, which might make the re-routing of your plumbing pipes a little more challenging.

Regardless, show the mechanical professionals where you’d like your living space to be, and have them work on a strategy.

Next, basements always seem a little less like basements when you have natural light. Plus, if people are going to be hanging out in your basement, or if you have teenagers in the home, who might be having friends over, maybe staying up past your 9:30 p.m. bedtime, and maybe sleeping over, then for all these reasons, and certainly if there’s a planned bedroom in the basement, you’re going to want a basement space that’s egress compliant.

Egress means ‘exit’, which in the case of a finished basement, is explained in the building code as an easy means of exiting a space in the case of emergency.

Most stairways leading up to the homes main floor inevitably direct you towards the kitchen, which unfortunately is the place where most home fires start. After first being awakened by a smoke alarm, then a whole lot of shouting, and while in a state of panic, the basement dweller’s first thoughts of survival should not involve covering themselves with a blanket, climbing up the stairs, making their way through smoke and fire, basically following a route to which only a trained firefighter could survive, until they reach the front door.

What they should be doing is racing towards the egress window, located only seconds away, flipping it up, and safely exiting the home.

Because older homes often have the sliding type of basement window, and are buried in window wells on the exterior that further impede the escape process, the minimum spacing for safe exiting is often not met.

Next week, creating a safe basement environment with proper egress windows.

Good building.

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

Step No. 1 to finish your basement

At some point in the life of homeowners the idea of turning an existing basement, which up to this point has served the home as little more than a giant closet for junk and seasonal apparel, into real living space, will cross the kitchen table.

Strategically, the finishing of a basement makes sense. You’re heating and cooling 1,200 square feet of area that’s presently housing maybe three key elements to the home: them being the furnace, freezer, and beer fridge, and not necessarily in that order.

Which leaves about 1,100 square feet dedicated to mostly junk, so we’re talking a pretty lousy return on your home investment.

As a result, it would make sense to turn such an existing storage space, or a portion thereof, into something of real living value, like an exercise area, big-screen TV room, an extra bedroom or two, or simply a play area for the kiddies.

However, and logistically, there may be challenges.

So, before ordering your Peloton exercise bike and investing in series five of the buns of steel fitness videos, let’s make sure your basement is ready to be finished.

First, has water ever infiltrated your basement in the form of moisture spots or pools of water on the floor, or even minor flooding? If the answer to this question is either sometimes, only in the spring or fall, or simply well, it’s happened once, then officially list this project as a non-starter.

Those persons finishing their basements must understand of all the frustrations you’re bound to face regarding the finishing of this basement, be it mechanical systems, the permit process, arguments regarding the location of your free-standing popcorn machine, and discussions as to whether or not your chaise-lounger should include the hot dog-warming option; none of these stresses will compare to the heartbreak of water infiltration, or worse, a flooding.

Until you do what it takes to ensure the status of your basement is officially regarded as bone dry, moving forward with this project would be extremely risky. Therefore, check the concrete basement walls for cracks, and any areas of previous water infiltration.

Do-it-yourself, crack-injection kits are available to solve minor fissure issues, while moisture-sealing paints, such as Zinser’s Watertight product, do well to solve concrete walls that feel moist, or that tend to condensate during certain periods of the year. Try these first-aid type products first, then wait a few weeks to gauge their success.

If you achieve dry, congratulations, you might be ready to move on.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything more serious than this going on, such as a very obvious wall crack, water infiltration at the point where the wall meets your concrete floor, or sump pump issues, then the hiring of an experienced professional will need to be your next call.

After having succeeded in creating a dry basement, the next step will involve strategizing the use of space. Invite a favourite contractor or home designer over to help you with this challenge. And, it will be a challenge.

Essentially, you’ll be attempting to compartmentalize your basement into four sections: them being living space, mechanical/furnace room, workshop area, and storage.

Getting rid of some of the junk, moving boxes and shelving out of the way, and a general clean-up, all in an effort to create floor space, will be helpful start to this evaluation. However, the real issues often lie in what’s above.

Some homes have the luxury of what’s referred to as an open-web joist design, which allows the plumbing, electrical, and furnace ductwork to travel basically unimpeded throughout the basement, while not affecting the headroom— now that’s smart building. Or, you can have a home similar to ours, where the original owner had all the foresight of a fruit fly, having all the mechanical and plumbing fixtures fly under the 2×10 joists, providing a basement space where I have to duck every 10 steps in order to avoid concussion.

Next week, basement planning.

Good building.

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

All hail the crown

Today we’re installing what’s most likely the nastiest, most ornery, and to say the least, most challenging type of molding found in a home, that being the crown molding.

Why is the crown molding so frustrating a product to install? Essentially, it’s in part due to gremlins, those mischievous, invisible little creatures that find pleasure in hanging off the ends of crown moldings as we attempt to place them in position, and who consistently kink an outstretched tape measure, making an accurate length reading almost impossible.

Then of course there are the more visible challenges, like walls that aren’t so square, and ceilings that droop in the middle, making the figuring of a proper miter angle about as likely as calculating the re-entry trajectory of NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Inevitably, there will be gaps, but— that’s what paintable, white caulking is for.

Why put yourself through the hassle of installing such an appendage? Because crown moldings can be a room’s most-attractive feature, and will definitely transcend a very average-looking space into something special.

More formal or more elegant? Not necessarily, unless you choose it to be that way, having picked a more extravagant model of crown, or have added a series of moldings to help enhance the crown.

Minimally, crown moldings make a room better.

The four keys to successfully installing crown molding?

One, you’ll require a 10-inch miter saw with a new 80-tooth blade. Crown moldings have beveled edges, and attach to the wall and ceiling in a 45-degree manner, pieces must be held on the miter saw in this same 45-degree position. With a cut as intricate as this, while being somewhat risky to the fingers (since they’re inevitably a little closer to the cutting path than usual) you’re going to want a blade that’ll cut through the MDF product like butter.

Two, you’ll require an air-powered finishing tool. Nailing MDF moldings in the same manner you would regular pine, just doesn’t work. The MDF product is simply too dense, and will either crack, or the nail will bounce back at you.

Pre-drilling? Better, but still not nearly effective as an air gun.

Either borrow, rent, or better yet, say that Santa forgot it on his sled, and buy yourself an air finishing nailer.

Three, clear the room or area under renovation, lay down a few tarps, seal the room with a roll of clear plastic, and set up shop in the immediate vicinity to where you’re installing the trim. Because crown moldings are installed at ceiling height, where spacing seems unobstructed, the do-it-yourselfer might feel it only necessary to push the room’s furniture towards the centre and cover everything with a tarp, somewhat following the format of a painter.

Avoid this strategy.

The key to achieving a tight miter joint is to cut the crown miter about a quarter-inch longer than necessary, trimming a bit off the opposite, or square end, until the molding fits snugly with its partnered miter. As a result, every mitered corner is going to incur about three-to-four cuts before you’re satisfied with how the miters match up.

If these cuts are being made in the same room as where the crowns are being installed, and your only seconds between test fittings, your stress level will be kept to a minimum.

However, if you’ve set up a cutting zone in the garage, or on the back deck, with the logic being to control the dust issue, but in doing so are incurring an extra 20 steps, having to open a door, or slide open a patio-glass panel on every trip back to the miter saw, this going back and forth is going to drive you batty.

Four, to ease the installation, first install a baseboard molding (upside down) on the wall, tight up against the ceiling, following the perimeter of the room. The baseboard not only adds to the décor, but provides an effective nailing anchor for the crown.

Good building.

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

Choosing casing, and baseboards

First, some basic education.

The casing is the decorative trim, or molding, that gets installed around your interior doors and windows.

The baseboard is the molding that follows the base of the wall along the floor line.

If necessary, a shoe-molding, or quarter-round molding, is the small piece of trim that gets installed along the bottom of the baseboard, again, following the floor line.

Next, there are two general rules or essential practices to properly choosing these moldings.

One— the casing must always be thicker than the baseboard.

And two— the baseboard must always be wider than the casing.

Keep these two points in mind and you’ll never get yourself into a décor doo-doo.

Now, before going any further, how important, or how integral a decision, is the choice of a casing and baseboard to the overall functioning, well-being, and operational effectiveness of the home?

Essentially, zero.

However, the thing about casings and baseboard moldings is that they’re the type of home appendage that could be diminutive in size, and as a result go totally unnoticed in a home’s décor scheme, or, be a little more substantial, and have a very positive effect on the overall look of the home.

Value-wise, casings and baseboards deliver a better return on investment with every penny spent.

Comparatively, if we look at hardwood flooring, a homeowner might question whether spending $3-$4 more per square foot on an imported Brazilian mahogany flooring, rather than choosing a domestic hickory or oak floor of equal thickness and width, is really worth it. Because the extra costs of the imported wood are somewhat related to the fact it came from a protected forest, requiring the pay-off of local warlords, transport by elephant through mountainous terrain, followed by a coal-fueled barge chugging along the Atlantic Ocean. One might question the value of such an investment, and, whether paying almost twice the price for such a product provides you with that much better of a floor.

On the other hand, MDF (medium-density fibreboard), the product of choice in the molding biz, is basically purchased by the pound.

So, a casing molding that’s five-eighths-inch x 2.75 inches in thickness and width, costs about 59 cents a linear foot, whereby a three-quarter x 3.5-inch casing, being about 50 per cent heavier, retails for about 99 cents per linear foot. What this means is that you’re getting exactly what you pay for, which is the best value a homeowner can expect.

Step one— choose a molding profile, or molding series. Generally speaking, there are four styles, including Victorian, colonial, modern, and contemporary, which tend to follow the four most-common types of home décor.

Essentially, the Victorian moldings have the most going on regarding the amount of curves, bumps, and lines, with those features diminishing in the colonial series, and even less in the modern, basically ending up with what amounts to a smooth, square-edged trim in the contemporary lines.

Whatever the style, casings and baseboards generally come in sets, whereby a chosen casing should have one or two possible base choices.

Strategy?

Choose the casing first. Because the casing is what you see the most of, you have to like it best. Plus, the available spacing around each door frame will certainly guide you in your choice of casing. That’s why it’s really important for new home builders to verify the wall spacing while the home is being framed.

In most cases, interior doors that get framed too close to an adjoining wall, can simply be shifted a few inches towards the centre of the wall with the removal of a few 2×4’s.

Creating the necessary room for a very much in style 3.5-inch to four-inch casing is best done in these early stages, as opposed to you drawing the ire of your contractor once the area has been wired and drywalled.

Regardless, it’s never too late to make room for a larger casing— all it costs is money.

Good building.

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

What comes after the front door

Refurbishing a home is always a little stressful, although the cleansing process does get easier with every trip to the curb.

Ahh, the curb— the spot where a homeowner can finally lay to rest their shag area rug, macramé wall hangings, everything and anything wicker, famed artwork such as “Dogs playing cards,” and anything the colour orange, with no quarrel or judgment from neighbours, provided all is conveniently stockpiled beside a sign reading free stuff.

So, for those folks who haven’t made any decorating changes since Lavern & Shirley went off the air, let’s follow up on last week’s task of choosing new interior doors with a few more door-related improvements, including replacing the door hinges, door knobs, and door trims.

Replacing the interior slab doors is as good an opportunity as ever to change the door knobs. By changing the door knobs, you’ll also need to consider replacing the hinges, since they’re likely brass in colour, or after a series of simpler renovations, are covered in paint blotches.

Regardless, the odds favour you not sticking with the rather outdated polished brass knob, or brass/chrome combo— again, favourites that date back to the days of the Fonz.

Because the hinges and door knob should colour match, be sure to choose a door knob before ordering your pre-hung door. This way, your pre-hung unit can be ordered with hinges that colour match the door knob.

Choosing a door knob? Actually, forget the knob style, and instead choose the more versatile lever model. Other than simply looking attractive enough, I can’t think of any reason why someone would choose a round- or ball-shaped door knob.

Besides scraping your knuckles against the door jamb every time the average right handed person opens a door that swings in towards the left, unless you’re somewhat ambidextrous, and can remind yourself which hand to proceed forward with in order to avoid bloodshed, the action of having to turn a knob can be a further challenge for those with joint pain. Plus, turning a round knob takes a relatively firm grip.

If your hands happen to be covered in butter while being elbows deep into stuffing the turkey, and a bladder emergency sparked by a previous night of drink and revelry has you rushing towards a bathroom door with a round knob, well— after a few harried moments, you may have to accept this as being your last moment of dignity.

On the other hand, with a lever handle you simply drop your elbow on the latch, and proceed forward.

That’s the real advantage of a lever style of handle: you could be carrying a hamper of clothing in one arm, ironing board in the other, have a small child resting on your shoulders, and as long as you can manage to get a foot, knee, or elbow to make contact with the lever, you’re in.

Next, casings and baseboards— What’s in style these days?

Wider, with maybe a slight bevel, and painted. Gone, style-wise, are the 2-1/8-inch casings and 3-1/8-inch baseboards in either a colonial or plain mahogany finish. So, as you proceed in choosing a new casing and base profile, don’t be overwhelmed by the increased mass in these new molding offerings.

Generally, you should be looking at a casing that’s three to 3.5 inches wide, along with a baseboard that rises up 4.5 to 5.5 inches. The very plain, or perfectly rectangular casings and baseboards, deliver a contemporary look, which goes well with a plain, painted smooth door, which in turn seems to suit an apartment or condo type of atmosphere.

However, if were talking a home, and you’ve chosen a smooth-surfaced door with a raised panel, or door panel resembling shaker-styled cabinetry, then a relatively plain molding with a slightly shaped, or beveled edge, would be my recommendation.

Note, before ordering a particular style of casing, verify the existing space between door and wall will accommodate this wider model.

Good building.

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