Surveys make ‘fence’ between neighbours

An October 2008 file photo of Ron Denis of land survey firm Farley Smith and Denis, with his survey equipment. JULIE OLIVER/OTTAWA CITIZEN/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today, we put to paper a plan to fortify our home’s perimeter, initiating a strategy that’ll forever protect our backyard property from those undesirables set on disturbing our goal of privacy and tranquility.

In other words, we’re building a fence.

Two things to consider before planting a post hole-drilling auger into the soil.

One, fences require permits, so be sure to get one.

And two, know the exact location of your property line.

Unfortunately, fencing is like any other home renovation, in that its manner of construction is guided by rules. So, if you were planning on topping your fence with a department of corrections-approved razor wire, and installing electrical power around all possible points of entry with a shock surge capable of incapacitating a 200-pound man, then the city officials may ask you to modify your drawings.

Where you build your fence isn’t such a concern for the city, unless of course you end up placing some of your fencing, or parts thereof, on city property.

Other entities that may show concern for your haphazard drilling of holes along perceived property lines are your neighbors. So, if a fence is in the plans, have your property surveyed.

If, on the other hand, good ol’ Mr. MacTavish, your friendly neighbour of 15 years, has you thinking you can save yourself $500 on the cost of procuring a survey by settling on a designated property line together, relying on your good relationship to keep things cordial, give your head a shake.

Guaranteed, the moment you finish your fence line, ol’ Mr. MacTavish drops dead like a sack of potatoes after choking on his haggis. The new owner of the property, a Mr. Chauncey MacDonald, moves in a week later, and while being not so happy to discover your ancestors might have participated in the death of his forefathers at the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, decides to test the integrity of this fence line by having the property surveyed.

Guaranteed, just like the time you decided to forgo the information search and invest in steam-engine auto technology, your best-guess fence location strategy is going to end up biting you on the ass.

Often, neighbours will choose a mid-point between two homes or properties in order to establish the likelihood of the property line. This can be faulty reasoning, because most homes see some type of renovation over the years, whereby extra garage, deck, or living space is added to the width of the home, often encroaching upon the home’s property line.

When this happens, the dividing line between properties becomes far from the centre point, which will only be an issue years later when new, unassuming owners move in, and start making undocumented land decisions.

So, to avoid the awkwardness of having a new neighbour, a neighbour who essentially has pre-judged you as descendants of brutal thugs who had stolen land from his family only 300 years before, presenting you with a document indicating your fence has been constructed three feet onto his property, we get a survey.

With the perimeter lines of your property clearly established by the survey, you can begin to plan out the post placement.

If the fence is to be yours, then the posts should be wholly placed on your side of the line. This strategy will cost you a little of your backyard square footage, but will at least ensure the decisions regarding the look and status of the fence to be entirely yours.

What about shared fencing?

As with anything shared between neighbours, whether it be a fence or a snow scraper, this type of scenario is probably best avoided.

Next, what about fence height and fence building materials?

Both will fall under the scrutiny of your city permit, whereby your idea to raise emus and other exotic birds by building a 12-foot perimeter wall with used sheets of galvanized steel roofing, will most likely be discouraged.

Next week, the best fence.

Good building.

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

Not your usual floating floor

Case no. 822, titled “don’t float me,” examines the flooring issues experienced by a Mr. Gerard Boyance, aka “Flottant” (the Floater), due to the pronunciation of Gerard’s last name sounding much like the term buoyancy, and Flottant’s propensity to wear soft-soled loafers.

Besides liking comfort, Gerard is also a big fan of those products that are easy to maintain, which led him to choose a vinyl “click” flooring for his kitchen and living room renovation.

The past 12 years had Gerard enjoying a 12-millimeter laminate, or composite type of floating floor, which over time had lost some of its sheen due to regular wear and tear.

Choosing a PVC vinyl click floor for this renovation was an easy choice for the Floater due to the toughness of the PVC finish, it’s very realistic wood colouring, and the fact PVC products are extremely resistant to moisture. Those features make it the perfect floor for Gerard, who enjoys cooking, and his four cats, who sometimes create their own mess during episodes of territorial marking.

Being handy in the ways of general finishing, and having installed his laminate/composite drop-click flooring years before, Gerard felt comfortable installing this new PVC click flooring himself.

Following the basic rules of click or tongue-in-groove type floorings, Flottant began installing the PVC flooring in the usual manner, with the tongue edge facing the wall, while using shims around the perimeter of the room to provide the necessary half-inch expansion and contraction spacing required between wall and flooring product.

Gerard’s expertise and proficiency in handling the click flooring allowed him to finish laying the product within a few hours, with a shoe molding installed afterwards to cover the required perimeter spacing.

With the job completed, Gerard proudly floated over his newly laid floor, touring back and forth from living room to kitchen with his Bona spray mop, making sure things looked just perfect for his hosting of an upcoming meeting of the bridge bunnies, a local group of card-playing seniors, that afternoon. After a successfully hosting of the bunnies, where Gerard only had to deal with some mild dramatics due to Thelma’s questionable card counting and Ernie’s habit of littering the table with cookie crumbs, the floater was once again manning the Bona mop.

This time around, the Bona wasn’t sliding so freely over the floor, and upon closer examination, Gerard was blown out of his loafers to discover the planks of flooring had begun to separate. A call to the flooring manufacturer had a company representative on site a few days later. Two steps onto the floor, the sales rep paused, momentarily shifted his weight from side to side, then, proceeded forward once again.

“I think I know what the problem is,” the rep stated matter-of-factly.

In an attempt to transfer the cushioning action of his existing floating laminate floor to that of his new PVC vinyl floor, Gerard chose not to remove the existing foam underlay. That was a mistake. Perhaps it was the term float that confused Gerard.

Unfortunately, regular laminate foams are too thick, and soft, for the thinner PVC floorings, and will cause the PVC joints to work excessively. PVC vinyl clicks and LVT butt-edge floorings don’t need to be glued down, so they do indeed float.

However, they must be laid directly on a solid substrate such as concrete or plywood.

Is there an underlay foam suitable for PVC vinyl click and LVT vinyl floors, offering some comfort and sound deadening value? Yes— look for a thin, high-density, rubberized matting made especially for vinyl flooring.

Solution to Gerard’s dilemma?

The PVC flooring will need to be carefully un-clicked and set aside, the old foam tossed out, with the vinyl click re-installed over the plywood substrate, or the aforementioned rubber matting.

Certainly a pain in the butt for our Gerard “Flottant” Boyance, but unlike most flooring cases, far from a total loss.

Case no. 822 closed.

Good building.

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

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

Working with real wood for your deck

In this new world of composite decking, why is pressure-treated lumber or cedar still a good choice for a porch floor or backyard deck?

Because painting or staining a horizontal surface isn’t such a pain in the butt. As a result, and until the solid PVC and composite companies render their products a little less expensive – and somehow manage to design a decking that doesn’t retain heat so effectively – real wood surfaces are going to continue to win the marketing battle by default.

As previously mentioned, real wood surfaces will absolutely require maintenance if their appearance is to keep up with the balance of your ‘touch-it-once,’ maintenance-free home.

Choices of decking lumber commonly available in most local markets include pressure-treated spruce, or western red cedar.

Brazilian decking lumber such as IPE (eeh-pay) is also available, usually under the status of a special order (which may require waiting a week or two), but I hesitate to recommend its purchase. Definitely a beautiful species of lumber, IPE can be as costly as composite decking. Furthermore, there’s one colour choice, which is basically a mahogany red type of tone.

Due to IPE’s wood grain being so tight, the surface pores won’t accept a regular semi-transparent or opaque stain, and must be sealed with a clear oil specifically designed for the IPE product. Left untreated, IPE, like everything else, will turn grey. Although a delight to the end purchaser, IPE (aka ironwood) can be a nightmare for the installer, due to its stubbornness in accepting a nail, screw, and even a drill bit.

With a core density and burn resistance equal to concrete, IPE is one of the few wood products that won’t float. Although a popular wood product to be used on the decks of many a luxury cruise liner, building a diving platform or raft out of IPE would fundamentally be a disaster for the uninitiated cottager.

The choice between treated lumber and cedar lies primarily with the user’s experience. Essentially, both species will require a pre-sanding, followed by the same install strategy using either the Camo (edge screw), or deck bracket (fasten from underneath) strategy of non-surface screw insertion.

Both species are coniferous, or evergreen types of trees. What makes cedar the premium product, or preferred choice over treated lumber, is cedar has a tighter grain than spruce, and contains natural oils, which causes cedar to be more stable over the long-term, meaning less chance of splits and cracks under the stress of our fluctuating temperatures.

Plus, as anybody who’s ever worked with cedar knows, the lightweight planks are a pleasure to handle, with its soft grain cutting and drilling with ease (essentially the exact opposite of IPE). Like any wood product, having a paint or stain properly adhere to the wood’s surface means first sanding the wood with an 80-grit paper.

Because cedar lumber is usually kept indoors, and therefore dry, it can be stained immediately after installation.

Treated lumber, due to it being stocked on a much larger scale, is usually kept outdoors. Although wrapped in protective tarps at least for a portion of the year, wind and general inefficiencies can definitely affect the consistent use of these tarps, so treated lumber is bound to absorb a little moisture. As a result, treated lumber will usually benefit from at least a few weeks of dry weather before attempting the sanding and staining process.

Protecting your wooden deck surface can be done using either a clear sealer (yearly application), semi-transparent (lasting two-to-three years), or opaque (solid colour) stain (generally applied every four-to-six years).

I love wood, so the option of a clear or semi-transparent finish is attractive to me because it accentuates the natural grain patterns of each plank. However, because I love my boat more, and cherish every summer weekend, the solid colour stain, which lasts longer and applies without having to sand between coats, is my go-to, outdoor stain product of choice.

Good building.

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

When choosing real wood

With all the terrific choices of composite decking available in today’s market, why would any homeowner install treated lumber or cedar on their decks?

Although it’s been suggested to avoid using uncovered wood products outside, especially relating to porch posts and railing systems, real wood decking still holds some advantages over the solid PVC or composite decking alternatives.

However, the “holds some advantages” statement will have to be qualified by referencing the fact composites still have some challenges, or product glitches that will need to be ironed out, in order for the choice of composite decking over real wood to eventually be considered a no-brainer.

Challenge No. 1: price.

Although aluminum and vinyl railing systems have fallen in price, due to improvements in manufacturing and larger-scale production, the costs of composite decking have steadily increased. Unlike aluminum and vinyl railing components, which have been around for decades, composite decking is relatively new, and has seen lots of improvements from those early generation composites that often swelled and developed mould.

Today’s solid PVC, or composite/PVC-wrapped products have evolved considerably from those early years, with swelling, shrinking, expansion, and mould being non-issues. However, this road to composite decking success has of course come at a price for the manufacturer, with these research and development costs filtering down to the eventual consumer.

Is composite decking done evolving? Not quite yet.

Although the recipe for making a composite or solid PVC decking product is pretty well understood, with developments in sheen, texture, and colour variation, every manufacturer’s goal is to make their composite as realistic looking as possible. The cost to purchasing composite decking is not likely to fall anytime soon.

So, although aluminum and vinyl railing systems stand at an affordable two-to-three times the price of real wood, composite decking remains two-to-four times the price of cedar, and four-to-eight times the price of treated lumber. As a result, there’s still hesitancy on the part of the consumer in purchasing such a premium deck product, with further improvements regarding the costs of production to be made on the manufacturing end.

Challenge No. 2: temperature.

Essentially, in severe heat and/or direct sunlight, composite decking, regardless of colour or texture, gets too hot to walk on in bare feet. Real wood decking, under the duress of heat or direct sunlight, remains relatively comfortable to bare feet. So, regardless of composite decking’s many attributes, on some levels it may never outperform Mother Nature.

So, how does the homeowner deal with wood decking’s biggest challenge, which is of course maintenance? Is doing nothing to your wood deck an option? Yes, but a really lousy one.

Without some type of protection, a wood surface will warp, crack, develop slivers, and essentially look horrible.

Now, if your backyard is littered with dog poop, a 1970 Pontiac Parisienne on blocks, and a few garden gnomes scattered about, then a greying, decaying deck would provide the perfect centerpiece to such a backyard world of death and misery.

Luckily, success in owning a great looking wood deck that’ll demand only minimal maintenance, will require invoking these procedures.

One, sand both sides and the two edges of each plank with an 80-grit sandpaper.

Next, seal the underside of the planks with a clear waterproofing product.

Three, and most importantly, refrain from surface screwing the decking planks. Choose either the ‘Camo’ installation tool, which is a procedure that strategically guides the camo screw into the edges of the decking plank, or fasten the decking planks from underneath by first installing deck brackets, which are perforated steel strips that get fixed along the edge of each joist. Surface screws are to be avoided because they provide a direct route for water and moisture to enter into the core of the lumber. When this core water freezes, cracks, splitting, and splintering are the results.

Conversely, a sanded wood surface, when sealed, should last for years before needing a further coat. Next week, more on real wood decking.

Good building.

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

Decked out in composite

Composite deck lumber is a blend of reclaimed plastic and recycled wood fibers. There’s no need for finishing composites. Just keep them clean. STEVE MAXWELL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In this, our last segment on “touch it once,” the strategy of choosing building products based on the likelihood of these products not requiring a second touch, or further maintenance once they’re installed, has us examining what will probably be wood’s last stand— that being wood decking.

So far, the touch-it-once strategy has us choosing 50-year warrantied sidings, such as vinyl or fibre cement, or such mainstays as brick and stone, which can last several generations.

Touch it once means extending the warranty on your asphalt shingles by following a directed manner of install.

And, touch it once essentially means eliminating all that is wood on the exterior of the home, opting for aluminum or vinyl railing systems, PVC trim-boards around windows and doors, using PVC posts wraps to protect those 4×4 or 6x6treated columns, and vinyl lattice or vertical siding to skirt the raised portion of your deck.

However, when it comes to decking material, is composite or PVC decking not the obvious choice if we’re to stick with our touch-it-once home maintenance strategy?

Or, has treated wood or cedar decking suddenly become a one-touch product?

Without a doubt, composite or PVC decking is the best way to finish your deck. Composite decking is beautiful year after year, has a perfectly uniform colouration and grain pattern, doesn’t warp, crack, or sliver, and cleans up with a spray from the garden hose and sweep of a broom. So yes, composite and PVC decking is the obvious choice for any deck surface.

Conversely, wood decking products will definitely need maintenance if their appearance is to remain constant, so that inevitability hasn’t changed.

As a result, there’s no reason to choose anything other than composite decking, unless of course any of the following reasons pose an issue.

Challenge No. 1, price. Treated lumber costs about $2 per square foot, and cedar decking about $4 per square foot, which seems costly enough, until you compare it with the ticket price of composites, which due to the vast array of finishes and colouration choices, will range in price from $8 to $15 per square foot of decking product.

Now, in all fairness to composite decking, consideration must be given to the fact most composite and PVC decking products come with 25-year warranties, which should entitle the owner to 25 years of weekends spent doing something other than painting or staining a deck. So, if we consider the costs of time and material related to maintaining a wood deck, the pricing gets a little closer.

Regardless, composite decking still remains considerably more expensive than wood.

Besides the price, it’s important for the future composite decking buyer to realize three further points.

One, composite decking isn’t the perfect product, yet. Its surface is tough, but not indestructible, so it will scratch and dent if people are careless in the way they move decking furniture about.

Two, being composed of mostly recycled plastics – a great thing because it reduces stuff otherwise going into our landfills – composites do move a bit under the stress of extreme heat or cold. So, those miter joints that were so tight and perfect in the spring, may not look so good in the heat of the summer or fall, which can be disappointing to the perfectionist carpenter.

And three, the surface of your composite or PVC decking will heat up to a slightly uncomfortable level in direct heat and sunlight. I love our composite deck, but on a hot sunny day, stepping out onto the deck from the patio door without my sandals on has seen me do a not-so-coordinated tippy toe dance back into the kitchen.

So, with composite decking comes the need for shade, sandals always at the ready, and a hose nearby to help cool things off.

Otherwise, you’ve got wood decking, which when really analyzed, isn’t such a formidable challenge.

Next week: the one-to-two, OK, maybe three-touch wooden deck.

Good building.

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