All hail the crown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimally, crown moldings make a room better.

The four keys to successfully installing crown molding?

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid this strategy.

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Choosing casing, and baseboards

First, some basic education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essentially, zero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy?

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

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

A great comeback

Paneling is making a comeback, and that’s a good thing according to our Handyman. Postmedia Network

“Fifty-five seconds left in the penalty, 1:27 left in regulation time, Boston 4, Montreal 3, Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side, he gets it up to Lemaire, back to Lafleur, he scores!!”

These were the immortal words of broadcasting great Danny Gallivan, as he called the tying goal in Game 7 of the Boston vs Montreal 1979 semifinal series. Yvon Lambert would go on to score in overtime, giving Montreal the series win, and a berth in the Stanley Cup final, which they won.

Lafleur’s tying goal followed by Lambert’s overtime score was one heck of a comeback. Although this decorating comeback may not stir your emotions, or cause you to leap out of your lazy-boy in the same manner so many Habs fans did back in 1979, this product’s comeback is nevertheless pretty big.

What product are we referring to? Paneling! Yes, that’s right, paneling. Popular in the 70’s, and basically the go-to product for anybody finishing their basement walls in those days, paneling is not only back, but it’s back in style.

Will consumers be seeing some of the birch and walnut woodgrain patterns that so faithfully adorned our basement and bedroom walls growing up? Mercifully, no. We expect that soft, woodgrain look to come back into play sometime around the year 2070, or when Montreal wins their next Stanley Cup. Today’s preferred paneling is made of 100 per cent recycled wood, and is referred to as HDF (high density fiberboard). Available in the standard 4’x8’ sizing, the advantage of a high density panel is that it can be grooved in any manner possible. This versatility allows the manufacturers to not only offer a series of standard V-groove, or beaded patterns, but also a stone looking, and more formal, raised panel type of wainscotings as well.

Further to these grooved HDF panels, that come painted white, but can be repainted by the homeowner in the color of their choice, is a series of HDF prefinished panels. This new series of prefinished paneling is much like the paneling of old, in that the wood finished surface was essentially a picture of wood, and not actual wood. The only difference is of course the guys and gals in the product development department these days have thought of a lot more fun surfaces and textures to copy, other than birch and walnut. Furthermore, the picture quality and definition of these portrait type paneling is absolutely excellent, creating a remarkable trompe l’oeil, embossed pattern, out of what is otherwise a flat surface. So, and like touching a trompe l’oeil painting to see if it’s really a portrait, and not an actual shelf, these panelings will definitely have you touching them to test their authenticity.

That being said, at about 50 bucks per 4’x8’ sheet, these panelings aren’t cheap, however, it’s a fraction of the price of a real brick or stone wall, and is something the relatively handy homeowner can install themselves, since one panel simply butts up against the other, with no special moldings or brackets needed.

What are some of the favorite patterns? Remarkably enough, and maybe it’s due to the old factory loft, or industrial type of living theme that has become somewhat popular, the look of concrete is now in vogue. So, we have engineers and architects telling us homeowners to cover up our concrete basement walls with insulating products, because that’s the environmentally responsible thing to do, with the décor people suggesting we cover this insulation with something that appears like concrete, because that’s the stylish thing to do.

To further that industrial theme, concrete looking panels are also available in 2’x4’ sheets, designed to fit into existing suspended ceiling grid systems. Other than the look of concrete, wall images of slate, marble, a variety of barn-woods, and even copper, are some of the terrific panels that are also available.

So folks, look to go with paneling, it’s made an impressive comeback.

Good building.

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

Big Gulp moldings

Unusual and elaborate crown molding is kind of old school, and that can be a good thing. Postmedia Network

Because door and window casings, as well as baseboards, account for about 90 per cent of the finishing trims in a typical home, let’s look at how to effectively choose a casing and baseboard.

First, and not so much a rule, but more of a general recommendation, don’t be shy to go big. In fact, buying casings and baseboards is kind of like ordering popcorn and pop before taking your seat at the movie theatre. A small drink and medium sized bag of popcorn may seem sufficient when presented to you, but once in your seat, the drink’s gone in moments, while the popcorn inevitably gets eaten during the movie prelims, leaving you with nothing but a dry mouth, and un-popped kernels to munch on during the feature film.

Back in the olden days of home building, generally referred to as the frugal 1970’s and 80’s, where disposable incomes were put towards the purchase of polyester leisure suits in anticipation of hitting the discotheque Saturday night, a standard casing of 2-1/8 inches in width, was paired with a very modest 3-1/8 inch tall baseboard. Today, casings are a standard 2-3/4 inches wide, and get combined with a 3-7/8 to 4-1/8 inch baseboard, which seems heavy enough, especially if you’re renovating a 1970’s styled home, or grew up surrounded by those somewhat diminutive 70’s moldings.

Regardless, even though the standard casing and baseboard sizes have gotten larger, people should really be looking to duplicate what was put in the grander homes of the early 1900’s. With casings measuring anywhere from 4-6 inches wide, along with 8-10 inch baseboards, this generation definitely new how to finish a home, and how to dress up for the weekend. Recommendation, go with the ‘Jumbo’ sized bag of popcorn, and two-litre ‘Big Gulp’ every time.

Translated into moldings, custom home builders, as opposed to those building rental units, should consider using at least a 3-1/2 inch casing, along with a 5-1/2 base. Again, when comparing moldings in your local building supply centre, these casings and baseboards may look a little big at first glance, but don’t despair, the hesitancy you’re experiencing is due to your familiarity of being handed a medium bag of corn and small pop since infancy, when you really merited the Jumbo and Big Gulp.

How do you pick a casing and baseboard? These types of moldings form part of a series of either Colonial, Victorian, modern, or Contemporary styles, with casings generally having a matching base to partner up with. So, depending on the home and interior door style, a person would be directed towards one of these particular series of moldings.

Once a style or series of casings and baseboards has been decided on, it’s then time to experiment. Because each series of casings and baseboards will have a number of profiles to choose from, the most effective way of picking one over the other is to have a few chosen baseboards butt up against their matching casings, while both moldings lay on the store’s floor. This way, you can stand back and better evaluate all the pairings. Try to avoid comparing moldings by standing or leaning them up against whatever wall, or racking is available. It’s our experience that when a bunch of casings and trims get leaned up against something, either the moldings or the something gets bumped, with the whole mix toppling over. When things are laid out on the floor, they’ve got nowhere to fall. Laying the casings and baseboards out in this manner also allows you to add a back-band trim (casing enhancing molding), various quarter round moldings, or to mix and match the various styles and sizes, in a much more effective manner.

The only one rule to keep in mind when matching moldings is that the casing must always be thicker than the base, and the base always wider than the casing. Enjoy choosing your Jumbo and Big Gulp moldings.

Good building.

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