No basement subfloor only equals disappointment

Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault (24) gets hit in the face by the puck in front of Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta (32) during the second period at the Bell Centre, on Feb. 10, 2020. ERIC BOLTE-USA TODAY SPORTS

With the subject on the table being basement floors, let’s continue with our discussion regarding basement subfloors.

A basement floor, regardless of your choice of finishing materials, will always be better with a subfloor underneath.

Basically, the basement subfloor serves three purposes. One, it adds thermal value, deflecting the dampness of the concrete, while creating a warmer walking surface. Two, subfloors cushion what is a totally unforgivable concrete floor, creating a more comfortable surface to walk or play on. And three, the dimpled or foam underlay membranes will negate the effects of a mild to medium water infiltration issue.

Essentially, the basement floor experience is similar to rooting for a Canadian-based hockey team as it jostles for a playoff position. Eventually, they will disappoint us.

If you’re a Habs fan, this means brooding through the month of February, waiting for that elusive blockbuster trade that’ll either boost us into contention, or bury us in the league’s basement, all while a team like the Arizona Coyotes – where the average citizen of Glendale couldn’t distinguish a hockey puck from a stale bagel – still manages to be blessed with a team in playoff contention.

If you’re the owner of a just-renovated basement space, disappointment will usually arrive during the spring thaw, where foundation walls with a perfectly dry history, somehow and by some ill fate, develop a few cracks, with this breach leading to a puddle in the games room just deep enough to bury the soles of your slippers.

However, if there’s an underlay in position, mild flooding will effectively stream through the dimpled underlay membrane, making its way to a floor drain or sump pump well located in the service room.

Last week we talked about the dimpled membrane/ridged foam/plywood strategy, or basically what is the ultimate in basement floor underlays, due to this system providing a deeper air space to accommodate any moisture issues, along with a superior thermal value, providing a warmer floor surface. Another bonus to this three-ply system is that the rolled dimpled membrane, and 4’x8’-sized foam and plywood sheeting, effectively conform to any slight dips or irregularities in the concrete floor.

If you’re considering the dimpled/foam/plywood option, be sure to choose Dorken’s Delta floor dimpled membrane, which is grey in colour, and avoid saving a few bucks by opting for a dimpled foundation membrane, which is usually black.

Besides the difference in colour, the floor and foundation membranes are identical, which may entice homeowners to go with the cheaper foundation product. However, the Delta floor product is made with virgin PVC material, with this pure material format eliminating the VOC (volatile organic compound) element.

Foundation dimpled membranes are meant to be buried in the soil, and as a result are the recycled by-products of anything from gas “jerry” cans to toxic waste containers.

So, and because suffering stomach or headache issues due to the off-gassing of such a product, especially after your basement’s finally completed, would certainly be lousy, with the $50 saved offering little comfort at this point, stick with a proper flooring membrane.

However terrific, the three-ply system may constrict your available headroom, eating up about two inches of floor-to-ceiling space. So, if a two-inch thick subfloor is going to bring the taller people in your home perilously close to the ceiling’s ductwork, you may want to consider an alternative subfloor system such as Barricade’s foam-based subfloor panel (R3.2 value), or Barricade’s Dricore air-plus, with a plastic dimpled bottom (R1.7 value).

The advantages to the Barricade products is they come in a one-inch thick, all-in-one (plywood and membrane combined) 2’x2’-sized sheet, which is certainly easier to carry down basement stairs than full-sized sheets of foam and plywood. Plus, these Barricade sheets require no nailing or screwing down into the concrete, and simply fit tight together (no glue required) with the aid of a mallet and tapping block.

Next week, more on basement flooring.

Good building.

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

A subfloor for your basement

Engineered flooring shown over a basement subfloor. STEVE MAXWELL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
If you’re finishing your basement, whether it be for it to serve as an exercise room, play area for the kids, or simply as a means of getting the TV downstairs, all in an attempt to create a more peaceful living atmosphere on the main level, you’re going to need flooring.<

Options?

Other than basements, or essentially below-grade (ground-level) installments, being off limits to solid hardwood flooring and some engineered hardwoods, mostly any type of flooring can be installed in a basement. However, your first brainstorming efforts regarding the flooring should be dedicated to the underlay materials, or basically what’s going to be installed under your preferred flooring material.

Because concrete basement floors are naturally cold and damp (which is why solid wood products don’t do so well when installed overtop) homeowners with eight or more feet of floor-to-ceiling headroom may want to consider a dimpled membrane/ridged insulation/plywood combination of underlay products.

Essentially, everybody benefits from a warm floor.

If you’re not sure about the warmth benefits of ridged insulation, or question the power of its reflective energy, visit your local building supply centre and ask to see a sheet of ridged pink insulation, commonly referred to as code-board, or Johns Manville’s (JM) ridged polyiso panel, often called RX board. Request that the sales clerk lay the sheet down on the floor.

If for this test case the panel in question is the JM board (which has a slightly superior R-factor over its competition due to an aluminum coating on one side), ask the reflective aluminum side be facing up. Next, calmly remove your shoes, remain on what’s most likely a concrete or tile floor for a few moments, then, gently step onto the sheet. If your wearing socks on your feet, no problem, the fact that sock material does have some insulating properties will only slightly skew the test. For the purpose of demonstration, bare feet would actually serve best, but unless you’re wearing sandals, you may not want to be the designate of a call to security regarding a disrobing occurring in aisle three.

While in the act of stepping onto the sheet, the salesperson may motion towards you in a somewhat guarded manner, offering a hesitant, “I’m— I’m sorry ma’am, but we don’t really allow our customers to walk on…” However, the clerk’s urgency will be to no avail, because within seconds the reflective and insulating properties of the ridged foam will be warming the bottoms of your feet. Remain on the sheet for about 30 seconds.

By this point, the junior sales clerk will have most probably left the scene to seek the aid of management, or possibly the in-store security. Either way, you’ve now got about 45 seconds to complete the test, because in 60 seconds you’re likely to be escorted off the premises.

So, step back off the sheet and stand on the concrete floor (still in your socks or bare feet) for about 10 seconds, thereby experiencing that cool, damp feeling again, then, step back onto the sheet for another 10 seconds and, ahh— feel that warm, comfortable sensation of heat returning to your body.

With test trial “ridged warmth” now complete and proven successful, you’ll have about 25 seconds to pull on your socks and tie your shoes, then hastily make your way over to plumbing, or the nearest unrelated sales area.

This best scenario basement subfloor option would have you first laying out a roll of Dorken’s Delta basement floor barrier (or an equivalent) directly on your concrete floor, dimpled side facing the concrete. Next, place a layer of either three-quarter-inch (R-5) or one-inch (R6.5) JM ridged polyiso overtop, using a roll of red sheeting tape to hold the sheets together.

Then, install sheets of either five-eights-inch or three-quarter-inch tongue-and-groove plywood, or OSB (oriented strand board) overtop. Use tapered tapcon screws to secure the plywood, which must penetrate the concrete by at least three quarters of an inch.

Next week, more on basement floors.

Good building.

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

Always plan for your escape

Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Vinylbuilt Window Co., provided this photo of a hopper style egress-compliant basement window. Handout Not For Resale SUPPLIED

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get yourself out of a situation in as expedient a manner as possible.

Say you’re a teen in a home where the house rules clearly oppose the sleeping over of friends in your finished basement, with said rules especially targeting the opposite sex due to the yearnings of young love not being truly appreciated by the parental hierarchy. Then a call for breakfast wakes you both up from a deep slumber; your little friend requires a quick exit.

Or, you’re the man of the house – with this designation being purely due to age, whereby the only thing you’re commanding is the home’s largest shoe size – and while in your third hour of watching professional football from the comfort of your designated man cave, a yell from the main floor above disturbs your solitude, wondering why you have yet to mow the lawn? You’re going to need an exit plan.

Or, God forbid, a real emergency occurs, with flames and smoke having engulfed the main floor. Those people in the basement are going to need a quick and safe manner of exiting the home.

Because bad things sometimes happen, today were going to be looking at how to make our basement living space egress compliant, or what is basically defined as being exit-friendly.

For those persons looking to buy a home, be sure to question the sales pitch that a potential homestead has seemingly added value due to its finished basement, or is a great buy because of an extra bedroom that exists in this basement area.

Without an egress compliant window, a finished basement is of limited value, due to the new owners having to foot the expense of bringing the area into compliance with the building code. So, be leery of spending an extra $15,000 on a home, due to its finished basement, when it’s going to cost you perhaps half that much to cut out and install a compliant window, while most likely needing outdoor landscaping modifications as well.

There are a few rules that must be followed in order for a window to be egress compliant.

First, the basement window must offer an exit space of at least 3.8 square feet, with 15 inches being the minimum opening dimension for either height or width. Unless you’re a member of this most recent Nutcracker dance troupe, the pull of a tape measure across your chest will quickly reveal that 15 inches doesn’t leave most of us with much wiggle room.

So, be sure to avoid the casement, slider, and certainly a regular awning type of window. Instead, look to choose what’s referred to as a ‘hopper’ window. The hopper is a kind of reverse awning, where the window pane is hinged at the top, like an awning, but instead swings inward, with the pane of glass swinging up, then locking in an open position for easy exiting.

The hopper window’s value is that it takes full advantage of the entire space provided by the concrete window opening. Plus, the hopper window satisfies the requirement an egress window be easy and uncomplicated to open.

Next, make sure there’s sufficient space to exit on the outside. Older homes are notorious for basement windows that are buried halfway deep into the soil, requiring a window well, or what’s essentially a steel corrugated casing that forms around the window.

Some windows wells are 12 inches deep, which means the only living creature escaping the fire that day will be the cat. Otherwise, window wells need to be at least 22 inches deep.

If possible, build your well deeper. This minimum spacing might prove challenging to those not enrolled in daily yoga classes.

Next, your egress hopper won’t save anyone if it’s placed too high off the floor, which of course can be an issue in basements. So, consider placing a cabinet, decorative type ladder, or some type of easily climbable unit underneath the window.

Good building.

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