Something for the birds

Lorenzo Sivilotti,left, hammers in a nail as Andrew Millson keeps an eye on the progress of the bird house they were building in a Grade 7 outdoor education program Thurs., Dec. 2, 2010 at King’s Town School on Rideau Street in Kingston, Ont. The class has been building birdhouses to be put around their school and on farm property north of Kingston. MICHAEL LEATHE WHIG STANDARD/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today we’re going to be introducing a young person to the world of carpentry by constructing a bird house.

A bird house is an excellent first-time project because it’s carpentry 101, involving the assembly of four walls, a floor, the angling (or not) of a couple of panels to form the roof, along with a hole for an entry point. It’s essentially a simple process, involving a few concepts and some basic principles of assembly.

Plus, this first crack at carpentry carries with it a huge margin of error and forgiveness. You’ll never hear the birds complain the new condo you’ve provided for them is a little drafty, nor will passersby stop to comment on the workmanship.

“Did you happen to see the crappy looking birdhouse that little Jack fellow has hanging from the oak in his front lawn?” one neighbour asks the other.

“I know” the other neighbour replies, “the hole is off centre, and that perch couldn’t support a chickadee, let alone a nuthatch. Why that kid must have been on a Halloween sugar high when he put that thing together.”

That’s a conversation that’s not likely to occur.Plus, this first bird house may lead to other, more complicated assemblies, further honing their skills to the point where that addition or sunroom you’ve always wanted might get completed before they enter high school.

Or, this first litmus test of carpentry skill could demonstrate a serious lack of aptitude, whereby their inaugural attempt at nailing a few panels together ends up resembling some wooden contraption that’s been run over by an 18-wheeler. Or, the concept of a box is lost on them, with each angled assembly resulting in a series of bookends, a relatively obsolete item in our computer age.

If that’s the case, then it may be time to redirect the child to the less-stressful task of having to become a professional hockey player.

Regardless of how simple a birdhouse project is, it’s still going to require a shop filled with about $10,000 worth of equipment to effectively get this home for our feathered friends constructed within a few hours. So, if you’re existing shop isn’t so complete, consider borrowing, renting, or if this is something you hope to dabble in more yourself, buying the necessary tools for the job.

Please don’t attempt to make this project a teaching session based on the integrity and historical significance of the hand saw, performing the cutting tasks old school, with a few callouses the bonus to the child gaining this construction knowledge. Using a hand saw as a teaching tool would only make sense if next weekend’s parent/child life skills session was survivor related, and involved heading into the forest with a sling shot with the goal of bagging a few squirrels to cook for lunch.

Our computer and cellphone age have helped develop modern-day kids with attention spans that last about eight-to-10 seconds per moment. So, handing them a tool that’ll demand their precise attention for the 90 seconds required to saw through a plank of six-inch pine would be ludicrous.

Either they’ll end up cutting themselves 15-to-20 seconds into the procedure, or leave the cut half way through in order to check their cellphones for activity. If there’s a hand saw hanging in the shop, save it for arts and crafts day, whereby you and the young lad, or lass, could jointly paint a charming winter scene on the rusted blade, then hang this magnificent piece of folk art over the fireplace, or big-screen TV.

Very important— before any cutting or assembly begins, first review the function, proper use, and safe handling of each power tool. Novice woodworkers shouldn’t necessarily fear a power tool, but they must be taught that keeping their fingers long-term means showing the tool ultimate respect, and staying absolutely focused, for the duration of the cut.

So, draw or research a bird house plan with your young person and get building.

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

Now onto how to burn

So, you’ve decided to start burning with wood.

Congratulations, the traditional atmosphere you’ll be providing for friends and family will rank second-to-none in warmth and comfort. However, this new role will require attention to detail and continued responsibility, starting with the ignition process.

Understanding the greatest potential for backdraft, a situation where chimney smoke is drawn back into the home, occurs at the start of a burn, let’s review a few good practices.

One, start the burn well before your guests arrive, and be sure your mind has not been altered by alcohol or a most recent purchase of legalized cannabis. Nothing kills a party like smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.

If a backdraft is going to happen, let it occur while the living room is void of guests. It would also save you the hassle of explaining why a jammed patio door handle required you to use Aunt Tilly as a battering ram, with her walker providing an effective means to shattering the plate glass window in order to secure a quick escape route from a smoke-filled room.

Furthermore, starting a fire will require following a precise sequence of procedures. So, let not your memory, decision-making, and reflexes be handicapped by your early partaking of the drink, or plate of special brownies.

First, open the damper to the chimney, as well as any air intake ducts feeding directly into the firebox. Next, crack open a nearby window. This will provide a little extra oxygen, which will help boost the flame and drive the initial draft. Plus, an open window is a quick fix to a home’s negative air pressure, which can happen when mechanical devices such as the kitchen’s range hood, or bathroom fans, are operating at full capacity, further challenging the chimney’s capacity to draw air upwards.

Cool air sinks. When it’s really cold outside, it sinks even quicker, which will be a challenge to the person starting the fire, since success in avoiding a backdraft lies entirely on creating upward air movement, or reversing the natural course of this chimney air.

So, with a ball of crushed newsprint, jailed inside a tee pee of small, dry pieces of kindling (spruce or pine lumber), ignite the paper. The key is to build flame, not smoke, in order to quickly create an upward draft. Success in getting the smoke to move upwards might be slow, which may be evidenced by your eyes swelling with tears and a sudden shortness of breath during those first 30 seconds.

Regardless, stay calm, work through the combustion spillage, and stick to the plan, the sensation should pass provided you continue coaxing the flame with more bits of wood and newsprint. If you’re two minutes into the ignition process and the fire alarm’s blasting away, the budgie’s now breast feathers up at the bottom of the birdcage, and the eye-swelling has rendered you blind, then abort the process and review the open damper/air intake/open window/shutting off of mechanical systems checklist.

What to burn? Only dry, seasoned (evidenced by cracks and splits in the log’s ends) hardwood. Don’t burn softwoods, painted or treated lumber, general garbage, wet logs, or those paper documents you’d rather the Canada Revenue Agency not see.

Dry hardwoods burn hot, delivering maximum heat and minimal residue, which is exactly what you want out of your wood fuel. Softwoods and used pallet lumber will burn of course, but the heat output will be mediocre at best. So, save this stuff for campfire purposes.

Furthermore, when fires don’t burn hot, creosote is the result, with this tar-like residue coating your chimney liner. Creosote isn’t a good thing because it can re-ignite in your chimney at any time.

Unfortunately, the first person to realize there’s a potential crisis is the neighbour, who upon noticing the flames shooting out of your chimney, is forced to either act, or dismiss the occurrence as you having modified your home into an oil refinery.

Burn safe, and good building.

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

Now, onto getting a clean burn

A wood burning stove in a traditional country cottage. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Sensing a firm squeeze on your shoulders, a loud, stern voice asks “Sir, can you hear me?!”

As you begin to regain your wits and return to consciousness, the blurred face of a burley first responder in dire need of a shave eventually comes into focus.

“Can you tell me your name sir?” the fellow with the four-day beard and large hat questions further.

“Yes” you respond, “my name’s Jack, what’s happened?”

As you turn your head to the side, the flashing lights of a big red vehicle cause you to squint, reacting with a head turn to the opposite side, where you’re semi-delirious state questions why someone has rolled up a rug and tossed it on the snowbank.

But it’s not a rug, and as your mind regains clarity, you realize it’s Aunt Tilly in her favorite floral dress being attended to by another first responder with somewhat less facial hair.

“Son of a gun,” you say to yourself, “did I forget to open that damned fireplace damper again?”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a real threat to those households not following a clean burn practice.

So, if you’re about to enter the terrific world of wood burning, let’s follow up on last week’s good burn strategies with what it takes to have consistent clean burns. Clean burning essentially means the only time you should be smelling smoke is if you’re outside the home.

Once in the comfort of your reclining chair, your woodstove or fireplace should be providing a heat that is basically odourless. So, if there’s a smoky scent in the air while you’re burning, don’t dismiss this odour as one of the sweet smells of the holiday season.

What you’ve got is a combustion spillage, which indicates residue gases and particulates are somehow evading the chimney, and making their way into your living room.

Included in these particulates will be carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odourless gas that can be deadly.

Steps to clean burning?

No.1, invest in a CSA-certified stove and stove pipe system, reviewing the chimney design and stove output with a qualified wood burning salesperson.

Next, have your wood burning unit and chimney installed by a certified WETT (wood energy technical transfer) contractor.

Things to consider?

Wood stoves operate most efficiently when they’re delivering close to maximum heat. So, invest in a unit that will heat the immediate area, and maybe a bit more. Avoid the large, 80,000 BTU unit simply because it’s the most impressive looking stove on the showroom floor, with the intention of operating it at half capacity because it would otherwise heat you out of your home.

Combustion spillage will occur at the start of a burn, as you attempt to create an upward draft, and end of a burn, as the air in the chimney cools and sinks down, allowing particulates to drop into the room’s atmosphere.

However, when a stove is operating at full capacity, there’s little chance of combustion spillage. So, for safe, clean heating, keep your fireplace or woodstove burning hot and steady.

Next, and for optimum efficiency, install what’s regarded as a warm chimney. A warm chimney simply means the chimney is kept inside the home, exiting through the roof at a high spot.

You notice exterior chimneys on older homes, where even the fireplace itself is housed in its own little enclosure, with the chimney running along the siding, upwards through the soffit.

When the chimney is kept inside the home, the air in the chimney remains warm, which means it’s continually rising, creating that all important draft, while eliminating the chances of combustion spillage by backdraft.

Which is best: a wood stove or a fireplace? If its heat you’re after, buy a woodstove. If it’s a more traditional stone wall, hang your Christmas stockings and roast your chestnuts by the open fire type of setting you’re looking for, then you’ll have to sacrifice a little efficiency by choosing a fireplace.

Next week, how to burn.

Good building.

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

Getting that good burn

The F2400 wood-burning stove at My Fireplace in London, Ont. on Friday December 16, 2016. DEREK RUTTAN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In the home wood burning biz, we refer to it as a ‘good burn.’

Achieving good burn status essentially requires two things:

One, the homeowner have a wood-fueled fire contained by either a woodstove or fireplace.

And two, the same number of people who enter the home on any festive evening, safely exit the premises without the aid of paramedics, firefighters, or representatives of the local morgue, barring of course any unscheduled exits due to inebriation or substance abuse deemed unrelated to the burn.

That’s basically it.

If you can create a fire in your home, thereby providing heat and an ambiance unequaled by any other fuel, without family members or guests dying or suffering the adverse effects of smoke inhalation, then you’ve succeeded as a wood burner.

Where to start?

If you’re new to the world of burning wood, then the suggested strategy regarding the acquisition of a wood-burning unit is as follows.

Tip No. 1: Yard sales and auctions are great sources for a variety of household items, none of which include wood stoves. So, avoid buying used, especially if the unit is older than you are.

Although wood stoves have no moving parts, the gaskets around the doors, fire bricks, and ceramic catalytic parts, all wear down and eventually fail over time. Plus, 300- to 400-pound woodstoves aren’t so easily carried about. So, the chances that such a unit was consistently handled in a delicate manner over the past 30 years is doubtful, which simply means the frame could have suffered a few line cracks.

In other words, the air tightness of this unit has most likely been compromised in a number of areas. When that happens, a portion of the gases released through combustion, such as carbon monoxide, will divert from going up the chimney and spill into the room. If the room happens to be an uninsulated and drafty hunting cabin, or fishing hut, where death by any means would likely be a welcome relief to the boredom and the freezing of one’s butt, then the collateral damage is limited.

If we’re talking about a room filled with innocent women and children, then this combustion spillage would be unacceptable.

We have an old coal stove in our home, a family heirloom that was used to make candy in the day, dating back to the early 1900’s. It sits in the corner of our kitchen, set in a working position with a non-operational stove pipe leading to a wall that possesses no chimney. During the Christmas season we’ll fill the copper cauldron that rests on the stove with decorative balls and lights. That’s how old wood stoves are to be honoured.

Either that or dishonorably discharged as scrap steel.

Regardless, don’t start an old stove up again. Besides being truly airtight, and likely far more efficient in keeping heat in the room, new wood stoves also carry with them updated information regarding the proper spacing between the unit and combustible walls, which is key to safe operation.

The same buy new recommendation extends to chimneys as well. I shudder when I encounter persons looking for parts relating to a series of insulated chimney lengths they found online, or at the side of the road during anything goes garbage night.

However, if again we’re talking about heating a shack that would serve the world better by burning to the ice, with any and all contents sinking to the river bed, then a mishmash system of chimney pipe may work in the short term.

On a new home, the interior stove pipe should be of the double-wall variety, with a two-inch insulated pipe used when piercing through a wall or ceiling, with this same insulated pipe continuing up into the outdoors.

Who should install your chimney and stove? Somebody who is WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) certified, thereby ensuring your heating unit is code compliant, and adheres to all safety rules and regulations.

Next week— lighting the fire. Safe burning.

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

Improving your stairway (to heaven?)

Today we’re making the switch from carpeted stairways, to one of hardwood treads and risers.

Why remove the carpeting off your stairs? Well, presuming you’ve already replaced your once-carpeted floors with hardwood, this natural progression completes the project, enabling your stairs to have the same clean, good looking status of your hardwood flooring.

Step one, carefully tear back the carpeting off of “one” step. Don’t remove all the carpeting just yet. The removing of only one step of carpeting will allow you to do some measuring, followed by a bit of research, with the development of a strategy to come next.

This as opposed to creating a scenario where the carpeting has been completely removed, exposing your family members to a minefield of carpet staples until the point in time when you get yourself organized.

The most efficient way of replacing stairway carpeting with hardwood treads is by choosing the “simple tread” kit. These tread kits provide you with one hardwood tread and one riser, in either an oak or maple species of wood.

The wood grain patterns of oak and maple differ considerably, so be sure to inspect the grain patterns of your flooring to ensure compliancy with the treads.

If your hardwood treads are to be painted, choose maple, its smoother and harder finish will provide better results.

Basically, we’re installing new treads and risers over the existing treads and risers.

The advantage to re-treading, as opposed to buying regular stair treads and risers, is the kits’ tread is a thinner, laminated version of what’s standard, allowing you to more easily secure it to the existing spruce or particle board tread. The re-tread also comes with a wide, decorative nosing, which creates a ledge that will be strategic in hiding the edge of the existing tread.

The strategy to using the simple tread kit will involve removing the nose (portion of overhang) of the existing tread, creating a square or flush surface to which to mount your hardwood tread and riser. So, measure the overhang or nose portion of the existing tread (which should be about 1.25 to 1-3/8 inches) then subtract this figure from the total depth of the tread. Hopefully you’ll be left with a depth of 9-1/8 inches or less, with 9-1/8 inches being the total maximum depth that your re-tread will cover.

If for some reason, we’ll call it carpenter’s choice, the person who installed the treads 25 years ago chose to make the treads a little deeper than standard, then you’re going to have a situation where the re-tread’s depth is insufficient.

This is when you either pursue further re-treading strategies, or re-tack the carpeting back in position and get back to your basement beer-making venture. However, and in the interest of progress, since the odds of you causing an explosion, or creating a barely consumable sludge, likely outweigh that of you driving an air nail through your thumb, let’s stick with the stair project.

If the existing tread, once cut, exceeds 9-1/8 inches, then options to solving this spacing issue will include adding a cove or quarter-round molding where the re-tread meets the riser, alternatively using a standard tread, or if possible, trimming the nosing on the re-tread. Regardless, it’ll simply require a little bit of extra finishing carpentry.

If the existing tread, once cut, will be 9-1/8 inches or less, then we’re in business to go forward with the simple tread kit as is.

Keys to success?

One, pre-stain and clear-seal (three coats) your simple treads and risers, as well as any other necessary trim pieces or moldings, beforehand, letting them cure for at least a week before installing. Staining one day, clear coating the next, should you choose to install first, then finish, will undoubtedly leave footprints, which will be disastrous.

Two, put a new blade on your chop saw and table saw.

And three, limit chipping by first scoring the finished surface with a utility knife, then cut on this finished side.

Good building.

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

Get it off the floor

A typical storage space at a client’s home in Lucan, Ont. on Thursday April 16, 2015. CRAIG GLOVER/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

So, how successful was your fall cleanup?

If you’re not sure how to grade your effort, the calculation is as follows. Measure the floor space of your garage, backyard shed, unfinished basement area, and/or those locations that would be defined as storage depots. Next, divide this number by the floor space occupied by items that are not furniture, riding mowers, or things weighing over 40 pounds.

If only 10 per cent of your storage square footage is covered by miscellaneous seasonal matter, or things weighing under what should be a manageable 40 pounds, then 90 per cent of your floor space was clear, essentially earning you an A grade, which is pretty good. The more things remain on the floor, the lower your grade, with anything lower than a B, representing the fact you’ve allowed 25 per cent of your available floor space to be covered with seasonal junk, earning you a failing grade.

Basically, the storage world has little sympathy for clutter.

So, if up to this point, you’ve been failing in junk management, there are two options. Either you invest in hooks and racking, or you eliminate the junk by means of a yard sale, donation, or dump.

Because humans love to collect and hoard goods, eventually developing a closeness with their stuff, the simple elimination of overstock is rarely possible. So, until death finally separates you from grandma’s wooden bowl collection, boxes of board games from the 1970s, and those priceless paint-by-number works of art, let’s get all this stuff on a shelf.

Because some things are better hung, while other stuff is more comfortable on a shelf, you should consider dedicating wall space to a combination of heavy duty hooks, shelves— and probably the best means of separating and displaying small tools and brackets: a pegboard. Also, we won’t be adding shelving, but in fact be building “racking.”

If you stop by your local building supply centre and ask for shelving, you’ll most likely be given the choice of either 12-, 16-, or 24-inch wide panels of 5/8-inch melamine finished particle board. Melamine shelving is fine for your closets or finished areas of the home, and does well to support towels and shoes.

However, you’re not going to be wanting to toss a car battery, place clay pots, or stack used gallons of paint on melamine shelving.

For racking, I suggest you use three-quarter-inch fir plywood. Fir plywood is more expensive than spruce sheeting (that would work also), but its smooth finish makes for the easier manipulation of goods, especially the heavier things, as you push and slide stuff off and onto the racking. Plus, the fir plywood won’t buckle, even under severe stress, and will take a pounding for the long term.

Support the shelving using 2×3 lumber, fastened along the front and back edges of each shelf.

Hooks for the purpose of hanging anything from extension cords to bicycles should be of the screw-in, vinyl-coated variety. Avoid choosing regular coat hooks. I find the shape of regular coat hooks dangerous, and when I see them, am always reminded of the final scene in the 1978 movie Midnight Express, where the fellow escapes after the guard’s head get skewered on a coat hook during a brief tussle.

You’ll never get skewered using vinyl-coated hooks. Plus, they won’t break like coat-hooks sometime do, and they’ll support significantly more weight.

Vinyl-coated hooks are best installed on a length of 2×4 spruce lumber, with the 2×4 then fastened onto the wall using lag screws. Again, and related to safety, although I can’t recall an improperly installed sheet of pegboard in a scene from Halloween 5, the revenge of Michael Myers, leading to somebody’s untimely death, your sheets of pegboard should be installed behind a shop table, or base shelving, and/or placed at least three feet off the floor.

Bending down to retrieve something off a hook is a recipe for getting skewered.

Good building.

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

Some stocking-stuffer suggestions for the do-it-yourselfer

A vending machine filled with safety equipment, including work gloves, at a Suncor Energy site north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Wednesday September 27, 2017. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Today we’re going to be making the Christmas holiday season less stressful by suggesting a few gift ideas for those needing to buy for the little do-it-yourselfer in your home.

First, let’s review the list of DIY what-not-to-buys, which will include most gifts relating to improving one’s personal grooming and/or level of fitness. Even though most do-it-yourselfers could possibly benefit from a facial, manicure, and participating in an introductory yoga class, it would be helpful if those around us simply accepted the fact a bar of soap is all the cleansing product we require, including the washing of one’s hair, and that when our fingernails get long, biting them or trimming them with a drywall knife is a more efficient use of time than sitting in a chair and having them filed. And being asked to touch one’s nose to one’s knee cap is about as desirable as attending a class where it’s the instructor’s duty to repeatedly kick you in the groin.

So, what does the average do-it-yourselfer really need? Support tools.

Now, receiving an actual tool would be great, with there certainly being little chance of disappointment should your DIYer tear open the wrapping paper and discover a 20-volt drill/impact combo, or cordless brad nailer. But, it’s the drill bits, driver bits, and saw blades that wear out the quickest, and what make for much appreciated stocking stuffers.

Start by examining your DIY’s table, circular, and chop-saw tools. You’ll want to measure the diameter of the blade, the size of the hole at the center of the blade, and the number of teeth. Best case scenario, if there happen to be a few blades hanging around, is to bring them into your building supply centre with you. This way there’s zero chance of buying the wrong size or type of blade.

Plus, old blades can generally be sharpened for a reasonable rate. So, while you’re choosing a new blade, leave the old ones behind for sharpening. Or, you can get your DIYer started on the exchange-a-blade program, whereby circular blades are purchased, then returned once they’re worn, and exchanged for a new blade at a much-reduced price. This way there’s no down-time of having to wait for blades to be sharpened, or need of having any more than a few backup blades in the shop.

Note, not all blades qualify for the exchange-a-blade program. So, make sure the blade you’re purchasing has the EAB (exchange-a-blade) stamp.

Grinder type blades, used for concrete or steel, wear out quickly, so stuff a few of those in the sock as well.

Next, if your DIY’er owns a recipro saw (aka sawsall) and/or jigsaw, pick up a few general cutting wood and steel blades for these tools. Recipro saw blades are pretty well standard, whereby any size of blade will fit most brands, however jigsaw blades can differ from one manufacturer to another, so be sure to check the fitted end of the blade for compliancy.

Next, look for various sizes of drill bits for steel, and spade drilling bits for wood, as well as driver bits for screws. Consider picking up a 10-piece multi-driver bit kit, which will accommodate most screw heads, and a 10-pack of the No. 2 Robertson drivers, the most popular size of screw bit driver.

Next, if you’re considering driver bits, then round off that gift with go-to canisters of decking screws (which can be used indoors and outdoors) in the more popular 1.5-inch to 3.5-inch lengths.

Other ideas?

Paint brushes, masking tape, fiberglass tape, a small tub of mud, a drywall knife, a bottle of glue, all the little things one tends to look for in a pinch and never finds, like safety glasses and work gloves. I went to get work gloves from a pail of several pairs of gloves I keep in the garage, all were worn through at the fingertips. This year, my letter to Santa will include work gloves.

Good building.

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

He’s here to become a pain with his cracks

The beige, cylindrical object towards the left of the furnace is the humidifier with its controls. CANSTOCK PHOTO

Arriving under the cover of darkness, usually around the time of our first snowfall, this little fellow will slip into your home.

While visions of sugarplums dance in your head, he’ll open up his bag of goods in your living room and begin his night’s work. The only problem is, this little fellow ain’t Santa Claus, and he’s no jolly elf.

The fact is your unexpected guest is an ogre by the name of Charles W. Cracks, with the W standing for willfully. His eyes don’t twinkle, and his dimples are about as merry as roadway potholes.

His cheeks are like roses, and his nose is like a cherry, although not so much coloured by participating in a healthy outdoor life, but more related to his six-pack-a-day smoking habit, and topped up flask of rot-gut brandy in his breast pocket.

Upon opening his sack, there are no presents to be found, but instead a large assortment of pry bars and chisels.

Alas, the Ogre of Cracks is not here to deliver cheer, but instead will get to work on separating miter joints from between moldings, and creating the heartbreaking and ultimately most disappointing drywall crack of all time— that being the separation of where ceiling meet walls. The thing about miter joints separating and cracks developing along your ceiling line, is that they’re the product of humidity, the physics of cold meeting hot, along with various atmospheric conditions.

Which, sorry to say, makes the homeowner’s ability to control these eyesores about as likely as hiding behind the big sofa into the wee hours of the night, and successfully catching the Crack Ogre as he descends the chimney.

Now, however bleak the reality of being able to prevent cracks, there are ways of lessening the extent of your casing and baseboards separating.

Crack preventing remedy No.1: control the humidity levels in the home by investing in a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit.

In the olden days, we had to rely on signals such as a dry throat and nosebleeds to let us know the air in the home was a little dry, or frost on the windows to remind us that it’s time to ease up on the pasta making. Which, would have us either opening windows or setting pots of water about the home to counteract dry or wet atmospheric conditions.

So, you can stick with that rather unscientific strategy, or invest in the mechanics of a HRV. Not only will your HRV regulate indoor humidity levels, which will vary throughout the year due to changing outdoor temperatures, but the HRV will also circulate and clean your household air 24/7.

Further to a HRV is a humidifier, which like the HRV, will work in conjunction with your furnace to efficiently distribute quality air into every room of the home.

Crack remedy No.2: fill the miter gaps with a paintable/flexible quality caulking. When cracks develop where the walls meet the ceiling, you’ve got a situation referred to as truss lift.

The good news about truss lift is that it’s a non-structural situation, so it’s not really affecting the home in any type of supportive, or building, manner— other than being simply unattractive. The bad news about truss lift is that once your home develops it, it tends to come back every winter.

Truss lift occurs when the trusses pry themselves off the partition walls in a home. Why trusses move in this way can be attributed to moisture conditions in the attic, whereby some trusses fall victim to condensation, and swell up in the cold, while the trusses buried in the insulation stay dry, and shrink slightly in the cold. Where shrink meets swell you get movement.

Solution? None that aren’t excessively intrusive or costly.

Remedy? Install a crown molding, or large cove molding to the ceiling only (not the wall), along the perimeter of the room. This way, when the ceiling lifts, the decorative molding moves with it, and nothing cracks.

Good building.

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

Go wider and straighter on doors and passageways

This file photo from 2011 shows a home in London, Ont., with a 36-inch wide front door. MIKE HENSON/LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today we continue our efforts to offer insight and advice to those novice homeowners looking to build a new home in the spring.

Our qualifications? A lifetime of errors, miscalculations, and poor decisions.

Our goal? To enlighten first-time homebuilders with a “What Not To-Do” list of home and renovation faux pas, thereby avoiding the building of more multi-divided, multi-levelled, tiny-kitchen/big dining roomed homes by this next generation.

Which, brings us to building error No.12: Narrow doorways and passageways.

The most effective way of realizing most home entrance and doorways are too narrow is by attempting to move something through them. As a father, husband, and owner of a pickup truck, I sometimes get asked to help move things. Which is no problem, because I like picking things up, along with the simple sense of accomplishment one incurs by successfully moving a fridge from point A to point B.

The sensation I don’t so much cherish is the feeling of three layers of skin slowly being shredded off my knuckles by the door jamb, as I attempt to move a 31.5-inch piece of furniture through a 32-inch wide opening.

So, in order to make things a little easier on all those dads, buddies, and certainly the professional movers, let’s add at least two inches to the average door opening.

Plus, you have to consider that people aren’t moving into homes with 1950s- and 1960s-sized fridges and stoves. Today’s kitchen appliances, sofas, and cabinetry, are often huge entities. So, it stands to reason the average 32- to 34-inch front door, and standard 30-inch bedroom doors, are going to have to be widened up a bit.

Start by ensuring the slabs of your exterior doors, including the front entrance door, side entrance doors, and door leading in from the garage, are all 36 inches in diameter.

Next, consider ordering your front entrance door with a handicap sill plate. Other than being a friendlier type of sill for walkers and wheelchairs to navigate over, and very convenient for dollies wheeling heavy appliances, the low profile of a handicap sill simply eliminates the trip ledge created by a standard sill plate.

Next, make your bedroom doors a minimum of 32 inches wide. Thirty inch-wide slabs are the standard, and the reason why I either dent a wall, or bump an elbow, every time I move a cabinet or walk through the doorway with a hamper of clothing.

Although young people tend to walk a little straighter than older folks, having 32-inch + sized interior door slabs will make your moving around a whole lot easier regardless.

Next, if your home is going to have a second storey, thereby requiring stairs, be sure to review the stairway strategy. Some architects and home designers love to incorporate curved stairways, or stairways that have multi-rest stations, having the homeowner climbing up a few steps to a platform, then turning 90 degrees, up another four or five steps, platform, turn, then another four or five steps to the second-floor finish line. The nice thing about curved or tiered stairways is that they’re visually beautiful.

The not so great thing about stairways that are anything other than straight, is you’ll find yourself cutting, then folding your queen-sized box spring in half in order to squeeze it up the stairs.

Non-straight stairways also present a challenge for those taller and wider pieces of furniture, where damage to the drywall is almost guaranteed, and that’s every time you carry it up, or move it down. Plus, every curve or change of direction in a stairway is going to stress the lower backs of the movers.

So, when it comes to stairs, keep ‘em plain, straight, and simple.

Next, wider door slabs will mean less wall space, which may cramp the size of your door casings. So, confer with your architect to ensure he or she allows for at least four or five inches around each finished door opening.

Good building.

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

Natural lighting is a kitchen’s best friend

Laurysen Kitchens was a finalist in the 2016 Housing Design Awards and uses the bay window for a lot of natural light With story by Anita Murray. Ottawa Citizen Photo Email CO

With our goal being to build a new home in the spring, let’s continue our kitchen talk. What do we know so far? Two things: One, keep everything off the counter. Although counters inevitably attract various things, make it your goal to keep it clear. So, know the sizes and shapes of the various coffee maker, toaster, and other appliances that have generally cluttered up your counter surfaces in the past, then have your kitchen designer incorporate them into the cabinetry.

And two, because kitchen cabinets last 20 years, while fridges and stoves tend to die after 8-10 years, order your big appliances locally, and, be sure to stick to standard (easily replaceable) sizing.

Next, make room for a center island. Kitchen islands give the cook plenty of elbow space and are great for getting people involved in meal preparation. Plus, islands simply look attractive, while providing some key lower cabinet space. What about a peninsula, or U-shaped type of cabinetry? They’re OK, but can easily trap the occupants if there’s a flurry of activity, which will be frustrating for the head chef. On the other hand, a center island provides for an efficient flow, where rarely is anybody stalled in kitchen traffic by being caught between an open dishwasher and a cabinet, or some slow hand chopping up the onions.

Not enough space for an Island in the new house plans? Bull feathers! Change things up a bit by having your architect move a wall or two. It’s the kitchen that’ll drive up a home’s value, not the large and spacious TV room.

That being said, if missing the hockey game, or CNN’s breaking news regarding Donald Trump’s latest words of wisdom, is causing you stress, due to you being posted on the spaghetti sauce stir stick every weekend, have a small TV screen installed in the cabinetry. Anything’s possible in the design stages.

Next, make lighting a priority. Other than a lack of counter workspace, where homeowners tend to drop the ball next in their kitchen designs is in the lighting, or lack thereof.

Step one, incorporate all the natural lighting you can. If your kitchen is like most installations and will run along the back exterior wall of the home, don’t sacrifice natural light for a few extra inches of cabinet space. Make that window over the kitchen sink area at least 1-1/2 times the width of your sink. If there’s to be no second story or room above the kitchen, then definitely consider incorporating a cathedral type ceiling into the truss plan, and be sure to add a few skylights. Cathedral ceilings are beautiful, with the warmth and early morning glow of natural light provided by skylights being absolutely spectacular.

So, if there’s room in the budget, then make this happen. If the budget is a little tight, then shrink the living room down a little more and be satisfied with a more modest TV screen size.

Essentially, a home is all about the kitchen, and the bathrooms of course, but that’s to come. Now, don’t skylights have the reputation of leaking? In the olden days, where skylights were installed with little more than a gallon of roofing tar, then left unattended for the next 20 years, then yes, they could have leaked. Or, in the days before HRV’s (heat recovery ventilation) where condensation would sometimes collect on the skylights after a serious session of boiling spaghetti, then yes, there could have been a few drips. However, in today’s modern world, with skylights having specific roof flashings for every roof application, along with procedures in installation and the use of roofing membranes having greatly improved, leaks are a rarity.

Now, regardless of all this potential for natural light, you’re still going to need supplementary lighting in the kitchen. Best bet, have round LED lights following the perimeter of the kitchen at every 3-4 feet, with an extra light placed over the kitchen sink.

Good building.

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