How to stain in the great outdoors

Steve Maxwell applying deck stain as part of his ongoing deck trials. Many deck finishes don’t work, no matter how well you prepare the surface first. Photo credit: Robert Maxwell JPG, CO

Staining your treated lumber deck need not be so ominous a task, and can generally be accomplished in three steps.

One: pick up the necessary preparation and finishing materials.

Two: print out a clear list of instructions regarding the proper use and disposal of said products.

And three” load your golf clubs into the trunk, double check the cooler to confirm all sandwiches, snacks, and alcoholic beverages are in order, then kiss your wife goodbye and let her know the teenager you’ve hired to do the job should be arriving shortly.

Three easy steps, and that’s it.

Why hire a young person to do this task? Because when done properly, staining a deck doesn’t do an aging lower back, knees, and shoulders any favours. And two, the odds of failure, including/but not limited to, peeling, crackling, and early wear or product deterioration in our temperature zone, fall somewhere between likely and guaranteed.

So, you might as well get a decent game of golf out of the day, strategically positioning this kid as the fall guy.

Why don’t deck stains last as long as advertised? Because the homeowners fail to follow procedure.

Basic procedure No. 1: timing. Because exterior staining puts you at the mercy of the elements, you’ve got to choose your two- to three-hour staining window wisely. Basically, you’ll need to avoid early mornings (dew on the planks), too late in the evening (dew, cooler temperatures), full sun (stain will dry too quickly), too cold (stain will freeze before absorption), or eminent rain in the next 48 hours.

As a result, success will be had while staining on a semi-cloudy day, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with expected temperatures between 18 C and 26 C, with of course little chance of rain.

Unfortunately, achieving this sequence of temperature and climate would have you moving to Fayetteville, Tenn., or somewhere in the central U.S. With that being unlikely, we time our staining the best we can.

Basic procedure No. 2: clean the deck surface the week beforehand. Best results will come from either scrubbing the decking planks with a soap and water solution, or using a deck-cleaning product, which can be applied with a spray-type canister. The deck cleaner is a convenient choice because the solution need simply sit on the decking planks for about 15 minutes before rinsing. In both cases, the soap solutions should be rinsed off with a garden hose.

In an age where emotions relating to impatience and immediate satisfaction are as common as adding cream and sugar to a coffee, pressure washers are an attractive alternative to rinsing.

However, a pressure washer is simply too much tool, and would be akin to calling the SWAT team in to break up a disturbance between two toddlers at the Tots n’ Tubbies Daycare. A tool that was basically designed to clean barnacles off a ship’s hull should not be used on treated pine and spruce softwoods. Pressure washing will result in clean, but your decks surface will be permanently etched (which will attract dirt and mould), and be left saturated with water, requiring at least a week of dry weather to cure.

Besides a simple clear finish, stains come in either semi-transparent, or opaque finishes. A semi-transparent stain is like an interior stain, in that it highlights the wood grain as it provides colour. However, and like an interior piece of furniture about to receive a stain, the decking planks should be sanded. Sanding the decking planks beforehand opens the pores of the wood, and allows the stain to effectively penetrate the decking, creating a more beautiful and lasting finish.

Opaque stains are like a paint, in that they provide a solid colour that hides the wood grain. However, opaque stains differ from paints in that they aren’t as slippery to walk on, and can be applied directly to a clean deck without the need to sand.

Application tidbit: apply the stain with a roller, then back-brush the stain into the wood.

Good building.

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

Your options for exterior painting

When it comes time to sealing your treated lumber deck, you’re going to have four options.

They are; opaque stain, semi-transparent stain, exterior porch and floor paint, or a clear finish. A fifth alternative, the option to do absolutely nothing to the wood, alternatively leaving it turn to a weathered grey over time, wasn’t mentioned because doing nothing isn’t really an option.

Permitting a deck to go grey is a choice, or a lifestyle. Are grey, weathered decks the more natural way to go? Absolutely, in the same way pain, suffering, and ultimate death is natural. Can grey, weathered decks be endearing, adding charm and maturity to one’s backyard, while gently blending into the landscape?

No.

I’ve been greying over the past five years. It has made me neither endearing, nor charming, and certainly not any more mature. What the grey has done is make me look old, with people asking me if I feel OK, or commenting to me that I’ve gotten smaller.

So, with the list of upsides of allowing a deck to naturally turn grey, equalling the many positive aspects of arthritis and impending knee surgery, let’s review these sealing options.

Clear sealers basically buy you time, similar to a reprieve from the governor if you’re on death row, and are fine if you need six-to-12 months to decide on a colour scheme. Because treated lumber has transitioned from the former green colour to brown, people will sometimes choose a clear finish in order to preserve this rather favourable, factory-brown tint.

The brown tint added to the treatment process is simply colouring, and not a true stain, so it’s time is limited. Clear sealers will help prevent your decking planks from absorbing water, but will eventually succumb to the elements, allowing your decking to begin the greying process by year three.

So, with clear finishes providing a two- to four-year timeline of colour protection, at some point you’re going to have to paint or stain.

‘Porch and Floor’ latex paint will be your paint option. Choosing a paint over a stain is generally due to past history, basically relating to what you, your father, or your grandfather might have used in the past. If you’ve had success with a paint, you’re more than likely to choose a paint again.

Paints came before stains, so there’s still a following who will choose to paint their decks.  Otherwise, choosing a stain, instead of a paint, has been the trend for several years now.

Paints vs. stains? Paints have a tougher, more resilient finish, and provide a more brilliant reflection of colour than a stain. However, paints (even the satin finishes) are significantly more slippery when wet, which is probably the leading reason for its general demise as an exterior deck finish.

So, if your deck or porch is covered, remaining mostly dry due to being sheltered from the rain, then a porch and floor paint can be a good choice. Otherwise, an open deck would best be served by a more slip-resistant semi-transparent or opaque stain.

Semi-transparent stains will require you first sanding your decking planks.

In lieu of sanding, a lot of people choose to pressure wash their decks, which gives the homeowner the immediate satisfaction of clean as this pressured water pulverizes the deck’s surface. Pressure washers are great for the homeowner because you get clean and quick results, without the back pain. However, these machines are lousy for your decking planks because they tear up the surface fibres of the wood, and effectively saturate the lumber with water, rendering it totally unsuitable for accepting a stain in the immediate future.

So, if you’re not up to the physical challenge of sanding your deck, or would rather a solid colour scheme, as opposed to seeing the wood grain, choose a solid stain. Solid stains are an easy choice because they allow you to re-coat every few years with little preparation.

Next week, giving Sylvester Stallone’s, midnight-black hair colour a shot.

Good building.

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

Get your newels tested in Newtons

Sculptured by Roublliac in 1755 this is a statue at Trinity College Cambridge University of Sir Isaac Newton 1643-1727 a famous English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. TONY BAGGETT / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Today we’re talking newel posts and how they relate to Newtons, a measurement of force, and not Newton, Hercules’s centaur buddy.

Let your mind wander to thinking of English physicists.

Essentially, one Newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram of mass at the rate of one metre per second, squared. The KiloNewton is a unit of force where one KiloNewton is equal to one thousand Newtons.

Because the building code tosses around the term kN (KiloNewtons) like Santa’s elves do candy at a Christmas parade, familiarizing yourself with Newtons and KiloNewtons will get you well on your way to understanding how to fortify your deck in order to meet those resistance loads insisted upon us by the building code.

Conversely, if you happened to have skipped the six years required to secure a master’s degree in engineering, and perhaps lack the educational background to fully comprehend KiloNewtons, and the various other mechanical bibble-babble found in the building code, let’s put the element of KiloNewtons into layman’s terms.

Essentially, one Kilonewton equals about 225 pounds of pushing force. The building code demands your newel posts be able to withstand a vertical load of 1.5 KiloNewtons, about 338 pounds of force, which is akin to either being put in a headlock by your average professional wrestler, or surviving the tugging force of at least three members of the McCulloch dance troupe.

So, considering the push/pull power of Highland dancers – they may be slight, but they’re mighty – deck builders should give serious consideration to the proper installation of their newels. Plus, building inspectors may or may not jump up and down on your deck to test its worthiness, but they always shake the post, and on a combined diet of black coffee and the day’s roadkill, along with early morning viewings of Die Hard I and II, these people are motivated to induce movement.

No matter how secure you fasten a newel post, when vertical (push from the side) pressure is applied to the top of a post, essentially at its weakest point, it’s going to move. The degree to which your newel moves, and how quickly it rebounds back to its perpendicular state, will determine its worthiness as a post, and the resulting security level of your railing system.

All railing systems have engineered drawings which outline how exactly a newel post in their system is to be installed.

Railing systems without engineered drawings are not acceptable, will not pass code, and will have to be dismantled if ever installed. So, avoid bargain brand type rails, yard-sale junk, or bidding on some beautifully ornate rail system at an auction.

What passed code in the 1930s won’t meet today’s standards.

So, unless you plan on using such a rail to decorate the area surrounding your lawn or garden area, or you’ve secured the engineering paperwork with a 2019 re-evaluation, keep it off your deck.

The key to a solid newel post is the blocking, or basically the mass of wood product that will accept the necessary lag screws or bolts that secure the post base. PVC (vinyl) and aluminum railing systems generally have newel posts that come with their own type of steel sleeve or base, which makes the surface mounting of these posts relatively straight forward.

Now, however good or engineered a post system is, failure is certain should you simply fasten these posts into the 5/4-inch decking. Effective blocking will mean placing 2×6 (for bolts) or 2×8 lumber (for accepting six-inch lag screws) underneath your decking planks.

Be sure to laminate the blocking with the help of a PL Premium glue, and secure the blocking into the joist system.

For composite and certain PVC systems, a 4×4 treated post will form the bulk of the post, with a decorative PVC or composite sleeve sliding overtop. In cases such as these, the 4×4 post will need to be buried into the joist system, and not surface mounted. Again, 2×8 blocking will be necessary in order to firmly secure the 4×4 on all four sides.

Good building.

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

The best choice of rail is clear

Around the perimeter of a cedar deck, Colin and Justin opted for glass and metal railings built by the team at Nortech.

Today we’re choosing a railing system for our backyard deck.

As stated last week, there are rules to follow regarding railing height and style. Plus, you’ll require stamped drawings in order for your railing system to pass code, and the inspection process.

So, be absolutely sure of your railing height, style, and available stamped drawings, before placing your railing system on order. It’ll feel like a punch in the gut when you discover your custom railing order didn’t account for the length of decking that butts up against your pool, thereby requiring a 60-inch high rail, instead of the 42-inch high railing you just sank $1,500 in.

Although railing systems come in a variety of manufactured species, including aluminum, PVC vinyl, and composite materials, our local building code limits us to basically two styles of railing systems, them being vertical spindles and balusters, or individual glass panels.

If your deck is elevated to the point where you’ll be having to look through the railing system in order to see what’s happening in your backyard, or if your deck happens to look out upon a garden area, river bank, or some equally desirable landscape, then you’re going to have a hard time beating clear glass panels as your choice of railing system.

Pros to going with glass panels? A completely unobstructed view— especially with those systems that have eliminated the top rail, protection from the wind, and arguably the best-looking system on the market.

Cons to glass panels? Until the local bird population modifies its flight patterns, you can expect a few casualties, which will be unfortunate. So, once the glass panels are installed, be sure to move the bird feeder if there’s one close by. Also, consider installing a few strings of reflective bird tape, hang a few ‘hawk eyes’, or perch a plastic falcon in some conspicuous spot, in order to dissuade the chickadees from the surrounding air space.

Maintenance of glass panels? We owned a glass-topped table once, once! Eventually, the constant finger prints and beverage circles left on this glass table top had us doubling up on our medication. However, today’s exterior glass panels are of such a high quality, they clean up easily with the spray of a garden hose.

So, investing in glass doesn’t mean having to start buying Windex and paper towels by the caseload. A worst-case scenario might have you passing the squeegee once in a while, until you eventually tire of that, and just accept the glass as being 99 per cent perfect.

Other than glass panels, the choices will be a railing system which includes either PVC, composite, or aluminum vertical spindling.

Often, homeowners will choose a PVC or composite spindle for their front porch because it’s beefier, or slightly more massive construction is more in line with the traditional porch spindling of long ago. Aluminum spindles are far more slender than their PVC and composite counterparts, and are a favorite in backyards, allowing those persons seated on a back deck to more easily view the back lawn area.

When discussing the advantages of a glass panel rail versus an aluminum spindled system, I remember one individual telling me the aluminum spindles were the better choice because they’re less expensive, and a better value, because in time you don’t even see them, or realize the thin aluminum balustrades are still there, and essentially look right through them.

Ironically, this fellow was a member of our local court system, and our conversation always had me wondering if this same line was used to console a criminal during sentencing. “I know we’re talking 15 years Rocco, but don’t worry, in time you won’t even notice those bars.”

Personally, I see the bars, just like I notice the safety netting if we happen to be sitting in an area behind the net at a professional hockey game, even though that’s supposed to be invisible also.

So, clear in my view, is only possible with glass.

Good building.

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

How to choose your deck railing design

Pinterest-worth deck railings may be pretty to look at, but they are not always the best choice according to our columnist Chris Emard. Not Released KRBLOKHIN / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

If your backyard deck is to be 24 inches or more above grade (grass level) the building code says that you’re going to need a railing.

Actually, with persons capable of leaping down 24 inches basically limited to teenagers, trained athletes, or members of the local dance troupe; essentially comprising about 8 per cent of the population.

I find the building code in this circumstance, a little lax. Having experienced surgery on both knees, I would probably request somebody kick me in the groin before leaping down 24 inches, just to distract my mind from the jarring knee joint pain to come.

So, with those very young persons, middle-agers, seniors, and those with joint pain, forming the balance of the 92 percentile, I think it would be kind to consider some form of railing system for any platform higher than one step.

As with all construction or home renovation projects, decks and railings require permits. Failure to get a permit may have you dismantling your project since the odds of you following everything to code without some guidance can be safely estimated at zero.

“What if I build my deck over the weekend? Or work only on Sundays?” you may ask. And, you would presume that nobody would notice, or bring your project to the attention of the authorities because that wouldn’t be neighbourly.

Again, the odds of your project going unnoticed, and the odds of you not being ratted upon, can be safely estimated at zero. So, best to follow the rules.

When it comes to deck railings, there are three areas of concern for the homeowner. These priorities are the railing height, railing style, and engineering specifications.

Because building codes can vary from district to district, it’s important for homeowners to check with their local building department regarding the building codes in their area. Generally, decks that are between two feet and six feet off the ground will require a railing system of 36 inches in height. Decks or platforms higher than 6 feet will require a 42 inch high railing system.

Next, your railing system will have to conform to local regulations, which will allow for most spindle type balusters or glass panel type railing systems. Although horizontal stainless cable systems are quite stylish, they’re unfortunately quite climbable, which can be a safety hazard for young children. So, beware of copying a unique type of railing system as seen on the Pinterest site, where safety is sometimes compromised for style or decor.

Finally, your chosen railing components will have to have engineered drawings showing their manner of installation, and that they’re compliant to the stress loads demanded by the Canadian Standards Assoc. (CSA). This engineering paperwork can be provided by the retail lumber yard selling you the product.

Don’t attempt to install a railing system that is not CSA approved, or that doesn’t have the engineered drawings, it will simply not pass and have to be replaced.

What if a person were to greet their building inspector with an XL triple-triple coffee and a box of Timbits, might that help them soften up on the regulations? Actually, they would be insulted.

Building inspectors are rock solid and are immune to compromise. They drink their coffee black, right out of the crock, and snack on a bag of nails as they drive from site to site. So, don’t even think of trying to sway their integrity with common folk food.

Finally, don’t skimp on the installation process by lightly tying your newel posts into the decking. Once your railing is installed, the post’s integrity will be tested by a shove or a shake from the inspector’s hip or hand, and some of these inspectors pump iron every morning. So, if you’ve used screws instead of bolts to secure the newel posts, in a quick-fix attempt to finish things up before sundown, your strategy is going to have you staring at a “FAILED INSPECTION” stamp. Next week, more on railing systems.

Good building.

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

Stop the bleeding

File No. 626, titled “knot bleed,” has us examining a case of gumming, or sap leak, being faced by a Mr. Ely McCutchen, aka the “Bainsville Bleeder.”

Formerly known as the “Bainsville Bomber” due to Ely’s prowess in the ring as an amateur boxer, the unfortunate circumstances of Ely’s present moniker came at the hands of a Mr. Hank McFarlen, aka the “Huntsville Hurricane.” A formidable boxer in his youth, Ely’s strength permitted him to back his opponent into the corner buckle with a series of jabs, then with a haymaker-type swing, drop the bomb, which ultimately ended most of his bouts within a few rounds.

Matter of fact, the Bomber’s technique was so successful, most battles had him leaving the fight totally unscathed.

That is, until the Bomber’s first professional bout with the Hurricane, who’s speedy manner had the Bomber suffering his first real blow to the nose. Within moments, the Bomber was spouting blood quicker than a punctured fuel tank, with the bell to end the first round saving him from an early exit.

Entering the second round with basically a box of tissue paper stuffed up each nostril, the proud Bomber stepped towards his opponent, only to be met with a second lightning-quick blow to the nose. Once again, perfectly good O-negative blood spewing out at a rate of one quart a minute, and had every towel in the joint turning to red in an attempt to quash the bleeding.

In that moment, the Bomber, in a cruel twist of fate, became the Bleeder, and his career in boxing was over.

Fast forward 20 years. Our Mr. McCutchen is walking across his newly constructed, treated-lumber deck.

Surveying the general quality of the construction, Ely found himself barefoot, with his sandals having been left three steps back, essentially stuck to the decking surface. Equally gummed were the soles of Ely’s feet, and upon closer examination, Ely noticed sap extract and various other gummy deposits pooling around several of the decking plank knots.

With the former Bomber coming to the realization his deck was now bleeding, the little gummy pools of sap strangely turned to red, as our Ely experienced a dizzying, PTSD flashback. Minutes later, waking up on the deck with his face now stuck in a sap deposit, the Bleeder was at a loss as to why his decking was reacting in such a manner.

Essentially, treated lumber is a mixture of wood species that include spruce, pine, and fir, which has been infused with a copper formula to prevent insect infiltration and rot, then kiln-dried to a moisture level that can vary between 12 per cent and 15 per cent. At this moisture level, lumber maintains its structural strength, and accepts a nail or screw with lesser chance of splitting.

Although the wood’s been cut, it’s not quite dead, so there may be resins and sap residues that leak out of the knots, which is commonly referred to as knot bleed. Knot bleed occurs when the wood absorbs moisture, either through rain or general high-humidity circumstances, with this moisture pushing these natural oils and tannins to the wood surface.

So, can treated lumber which is displaying knot bleed be painted or stained? No, the moisture levels are still too high.

Is there a means of sealing a knot in order to prevent further knot bleed? Not really. Shellac and Bin type sealers may work temporarily, but the sap will bleed through regardless, somewhat marring the finish.

What’s the solution to knot bleed?

Ultimately, you’ll need to patiently let the knots bleed through until they’re dry, then scrape off the sap residue and sand the area clean before staining.

Testing for dry? In a sunny spot, tape (on all four sides) a piece of saran wrap to the top of a plank, then wait 20 minutes. If condensation appears under the plastic, it’s too soon to stain. When the plastic remains dry, it’s stain time.

With that, file No. 626 was closed.

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

It’s better to keep it dry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Building your own courtyard

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

Today, we plan our courtyard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Stay out of the sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, further sun-avoiding strategies.

Good building.

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

Getting ready to play with fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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