There’s no need to stay naughty

Case file No. 624 has us examining the renovation challenge facing a Mr. Jack ‘Naughty’ Pine.

The naughty nickname references Jack’s behaviour, as opposed to what would normally be the ‘knotty’ species, and was earned in his early years as a mischievous youngster by Jack tossing eggs at neighbours’ vehicles while hiding in the family’s roadside recycle bin.

If a neighbour should scold Jack, or report him to his parents, or the authorities, Jack would double up on his mischievousness by pooping on their doorstep in the early morning before he embarked on the school bus.

Jack was truly naughty.

Unfortunately, and now a man well into his 40s, Jack has done little to improve his nickname from the original naughty, to the more appropriate knotty, and if unsettled at a party or gathering, either due to the host serving a cheap wine, or playing anything other than 70s and 80s rock tunes, may unceremoniously perform a not so generous upper-decker (pooping in the tank, as opposed to the bowl) in the master bathroom, before exiting the scene.

So, while Jack remains naughty, he is also faced with having to replace the several 10-foot porch posts that support a roof over what is a beautiful perimeter deck on his century home. The porch posts are constructed of 6×6 rough-cut timbers, which had been wrapped with a 1X8 pine planks, then painted.

Although there are no issues with the 6×6 timbers, the finishing planks are showing severe wear.

In most cases, the planks have rotted at the base, with the boards displaying cracks and a surface disrupted by crackled and peeling paint.

Jack’s solution?

With 12 posts to replace, and staying true to his forefathers, who were most likely woodsmen at some point in history, Jack found himself at the building centre order desk, looking to purchase 48 pieces of 1x8x10-foot, dressed knotty pine.

When questioned about this uncommonly large purchase of pine lumber, Jack relayed to the salesperson the situation, and his desire to re-wrap the deck posts with something similar to what was used originally.

Note— there are some things worth keeping original. If you damage the driver’s side rear-view mirror on your vintage ‘65 Corvette, you replace it with another ‘65 Corvette, driver’s side rear-view mirror. If you happen to own an original Monet, Water Lilies painting, but prefer the flowers be blue, rather than white, you don’t touch it up.

Conversely, if you own wood-wrapped deck columns, and they need replacement, you have to realize it’s time to get out of the wood maintenance business.

Essentially, choosing wood to re-wrap a post, especially one that’ll require paint, will eventually re-create all the rotting, cracking, and paint peeling issues being experienced today. Plus, having to touch up the bleeding knots, because even the best knot sealers can’t regularly stop knot bleed, combined with annual paintings in order to keep these columns looking pristine, will be another chore in your life.

If you own a home, especially an old one, the key to happiness in these busy times is limiting the to-do list.

What about the fact we’re losing a little bit of the originality? Forget about it.

If the builders of the day would have had the option of finishing and sealing a post with a composite or PVC-wrap type product, thereby avoiding maintenance and replacement for the next 50 years, don’t you think they would have made that enlightened decision?

Aluminum columns are the least expensive choice, with the added bonus of offering structural strength. PVC, two-piece wraps are a simple fix, although they’re limited to nine feet in length.

However, for a century old, colonial type home, the smooth finish of a composite wrap, along with its various crown and base finishes, is probably the best choice.

With this new information, our Mr. Jack Pine walked away from being the top pine purchaser for the month, and made the switch to composite. Case No. 624 closed.

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

Oil’s well? Go seal that deal

A recent conversation regarding the subject of how to seal and protect decking lumber had a fellow instructing me the most effective thing on the planet was oil.

“Like an oil-based paint or stain?” I inquired.

“No” the fellow said. “Engine oil or cooking oil, brushed or swabbed on with a mop twice yearly, that’s all you need.

“And best of all, it’s free” the fellow concluded.

“Free oil?” I questioned.

“Yes,” the fellow continued, “you just stop by the auto-repair shops, or the French fry huts, or maybe you know somebody in the restaurant biz, they’re always looking to dump their used oil somewhere.”

This mention of a used-oil strategy did conjure up a memory dating back to my early days in retail, with the suggestion motor oil be could be used on unfinished hardwood, in the case of a bar-type of environment, due to the muddy or snow filled boots entering the premises.

“So,” I hesitated, looking to choose my next question wisely, thereby dismissing my naïveté regarding a subject to which this fellow, an older gentleman as you may have guessed, regarded as common sense and accepted general knowledge. “I suppose colour scheme, tint, texture, or any type of consistency or expectancy regarding finish, is somewhat hit and miss.

“Plus,” I needed to be clear on at least one point, “do you mix the old French fry oil with the used motor oil? Or, are the two incompatible?”

“Oil is oil” my senior friend said, “and, it doesn’t matter how you mix it.”

“What about cleanliness?” I asked. “And, isn’t used oil filled with various debris, and overall kind of filthy?”

“Sometimes you get some small nuts and bolts in the mix, or burnt French fries in the batch, but it doesn’t matter” the fellow confirmed. “You just slap it on, and the heavy stuff falls in the grass, or in the river (because oils are great for docks as well), and if there’s food matter in the mix, well— the birds will eat it or pick it off the decking planks.”

So, with that charming visual certainly rationalizing the strategy of choosing used oils, even though actual certification, or recorded study regarding the effectiveness of the used-oil process was most likely lacking, the concept was simply left as an undocumented possibility.

Now, you may ask, how could the seemingly crazy idea of procuring used oils, regardless of whether the oil was claimed from the fryer at Frank’s Fries, or drained from the oil pan of a 1972 Pontiac Parisienne, possibly be viewed as a serious wood-sealing alternative?

Because, as my friend referenced with fact, “paints peel.”

True enough, paints and stains do peel.

Maybe the peeling is related to poor timing, in that it rains the next day. Maybe it was too cold, or too sunny, which had the stain drying before it had the chance to properly adhere to the wood. Or, perhaps the wood’s surface hadn’t been cleaned, or hadn’t been sanded, or was saturated with moisture.

Regardless, paints and stains seem to peel a little too often.

So, with used oils having zero to little chance of peeling, could such a product really be considered as a viable alternative to regular paints and stains? I’m not sure.

The customer would have to accept a yellowish type of tint, depending on the age of the fry oil, or viscosity of the engine oil, with colour essentially differing from batch to batch.

Product texture? Totally dependent on what fry bits and bites are left once the birds have at it.

Product safety? Although used oils aren’t technically flammable, they are combustible, which means there’s little chance of a problem, unless somebody discards a still-burning cigarette, spills the charcoal grill, or drops a birthday cake filled with candles.

So, avoiding carnage might mean installing the appropriate “No Smoking” and “Handle flammables with care” signage in designated areas.

Good building.

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

Working with real wood for your deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

When choosing real wood

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

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

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

Challenge No. 1: price.

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

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

Is composite decking done evolving? Not quite yet.

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

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

Challenge No. 2: temperature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Decked out in composite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Anything but wood

The staircase in the Mackenzie model by Minto at Arcadia splits on the second level to provide separation between the master suite and other bedrooms. Railings are simple metal spindles in urban black with a modern handrail profile. GORDON KING, FOR POSTMEDIA NETWORK

If our goal is only wanting to touch things once, inevitably freeing ourselves from the bondage of home maintenance by eliminating those products requiring a second touch or further care once installed, then the 42-inch beveled-edge baluster is doomed to become the loneliest product in the lumber yard.

Essentially, it’s made of wood, it’s going to require a second touch.

Depending on how long you keep your home, there could very well be third and fourth touches, which all fall under the dubious term of maintenance.

Saying goodbye to wood appendages will be difficult for some, since the wood spindle’s contribution to residential history has been significant. Formed on a lathe, turned Victorian-style spindles were often the showcase items on those grand, century townhomes that featured exquisite wraparound balconies.

From the post-Second World War years to the end of the 20th century, turned spindles were the look of middle-class prosperity, similar to the white picket fence of the previous generation.

So, are we to forfeit the cultural significance of the turned spindle and dismiss its contribution by eliminating its future use?

Well, understanding that painting a turned spindle ranks right up there with having to change a flat tire or manually dig a post hole on the satisfaction spectrum of household jobs we hold most dear, there’s little chance the next generation of homeowner is going to put up with this type of yearly monotony.

Following the turned spindle, the exterior railing trend switched towards the smooth look of the beveled edge baluster. Though the balusters plain finish would reduce maintenance times rather significantly in most cases, one coat of finish is all most balusters were going to see.

Eventually, with brown-coloured treated wood entering the market, balusters and their handrails would most often be left unfinished. With no paint or stain to protect the finish, the thought was these balusters would keep their brown colour for a few years, then gently turn to a lovely grey hue.

This was, of course, one-touch dreaming.

Unfortunately, time does exposed wood favours in the same way it improves our hairlines, and benefits our ageing knees and lower backs.

So, with exterior wood railings and wood trims being the type of products that will need constant revisiting or replacement within six-to-eight years should you totally ignore them, the only solution to not having to maintain wood spindles is essentially avoiding wood spindles or balusters in the first place.

What one-touch type railing systems will the homeowner have to choose from? Well, there are several, with the more popular choices being aluminum, steel, and PVC (vinyl).

Essentially, the steel and aluminum series of railings offer spindles and newel posts that are thin and sleek, with colour choices that include the popular deep brown and black tones of the day. The PVC railing systems offer a slightly heavier looking baluster and newel post, and are a good choice if a traditional white spindled railing is what you’re after.

One-touch porch posts will need to follow a similar rule, although not quite so stringent, to your deck spindles. In other words, wood columns or posts are fine during the construction phase, but will need to be covered with a PVC wrap at the finishing stage.

Similar to the wood joists and general wood structure, there’s no questioning a piece of wood’s integrity or longevity if it’s kept dry.

Are there any conditions which would allow exposed wood to be used on an exterior deck, and still fall under the one-touch philosophy? If any portion of your deck crosses into the State of Arizona, where temperatures vary between dry and very dry, then perhaps. Otherwise, no.

The task of choosing alternative products to wood may seem daunting at first, but don’t fear the challenge.

There are PVC trim-boards, fascia planks, moldings and lattices available to cover any decking challenge.

Next week, does ‘touch it once’ mean saying no to wood decking?

Good building.

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

Insp. Clouseau looks for clues at the cottage

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Today we’ll be following home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, due to Jack’s genealogical connection with his French cousins, and a preference of wearing a white fedora and trench coat while performing his home inspections.

The inspector will be passing his magnifying glass over a potential cottage for purchase by a Mr. Bill ‘Crusher’ Granite, the subject of last week’s column.

Now to be clear, the use of the term cottage in this case is purely subjective. What’s for purchase here is a standard 1,600-square-foot home with nearly a full-height basement, and not an 800-square-foot hunting lodge raised up on cement blocks. There’s no way we’ll be closing this baby up for the winter.

In order for this cottage to remain healthy, general maintenance, a few upgrades, and providing heat for this home year round, regardless of occupancy, will be absolutely necessary.

Our Clouseau was also suspicious of the sales person’s repeated mention the sellers of this cottage are a physics professor and his wife who are looking to retire to the city. Very good, the home has been lived in by someone capable of splitting an atom.

Unfortunately, this same fellow was befuddled by the soggy state of his loafers as he walked the perimeter of his home, and failed to recognize the fact the home’s landscape was working in a negative manner, directing water towards the foundation.

So, be leery of trusting all is good simply because a home has been lived in by persons of means or intelligence. It should be viewed as little solace or guarantee your future dwelling has been well cared for, or built to code.

The home had several little decks that permitted seating on the east, west, and north sides of the home, allowing the homeowners to view the water and strategically follow the sun, or the shade, throughout the day.

A lovely idea, except for the fact each deck was in its own stage of decay. This was due largely in part to the puddles of water and moisture-filled soil that lay beneath these decks, and the fact all three decks had been framed perilously close to the ground.

Further to the deck issue was a relatively significant crack in the corner of the foundation wall that supported the garage. Our Clouseau suspects rainwater and snow melt had been allowed to pool in this area, with this moisture infiltrating the concrete, then expanding during the freezing periods.

We haven’t even entered the cottage yet and we’re facing a foundation repair, dismantling the existing decks (which thankfully are of treated lumber, as opposed to composite, and represent no great loss), a total re-do of the landscaping (which may or may not include replacing the weeping tile, if it ever existed), then re-building the decks once again.

Properly grading the landscape is going to be a challenge because there’s little to no foundation left to work with. It’s as if the house had sunk into a hole. Built on bedrock, this cottage has never sunk, but its foundation was probably two or three rows of concrete blocks too short, a strange error considering the age of the home and the general guidelines of building.

Next, we visited the basement, which was for some reason only accessible from the outside. Our Clouseau was at a loss as to why the professor forfeited a standard stairwell to the basement, in exchange for added closet space.

His thought was that should an explosion occur in the basement as a result of the professor experimenting with a new rocket fuel, the main living area would have been shielded, with the ensuing damage limited to the basement’s block walls blowing out. With the basement walls gone, the home would have simply crashed down upon the rubble, which would have unfortunately included the professor, but on a positive note, saved on the cost of internment.

Next week, the inspection continues.

Good building.

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

The civil deck

One way to put a damper on that backyard barbecue? Splinters from your deck. Postmedia Network

So far we’ve managed to build a deck that can deflect the effects of direct sunlight or a light rain, that can control the winds and skew the view of peering neighbors, and that can provide valuable storage for seat cushions and pool supplies.

Today, we further our quest to build the most civilized of decks by eliminating one of the most dreadful components of exterior deck building, that being splinters.

Essentially, when it comes to entertaining, the book of host etiquette deems it a major faux pas to expose your guests to an environment that can inject them with a pain so formidable, that during times of conflict, the piercing sensation of a splinter was considered an effective means of getting information from infidels.

Basically, if splintering is to be avoided, we are to never screw or nail into wood without first pre-drilling a hole. The best case scenario when fastening down cedar or pressure treated decking will have the installer avoiding the use of surface screws entirely. Surface screws can be replaced by one of two systems, them being the ‘Decktrack’ band, or the ‘Camo’ clamp.

The Decktrack band is a 45 inch strip of powder coated steel that gets nailed along the top edge of the deck’s 2×8 or 2×10 joists. The Decktrack bands are perforated, and allow the installer to insert 7/8 inch screws into the decking planks from underneath.

The Camo clamp is a mechanism that sets the special Camo deck screws in position on an angle. The installer then clamps the plank in position with one hand, then drives the screws into the edge of the plank with the use of a cordless drill, held in the other hand.

The Deck track and Camo systems require a little more time on the part of the installer, and are a little more costly than simply having to buy regular decking screws. However, a deck surface free of screws is a beautiful thing. Surface screwing not only promotes splintering, but by penetrating the wood grain, will enable your decking planks to regularly absorb moisture, which isn’t a good thing. Decking planks that are constantly wet do a poor job of absorbing stain, which will translate into a future of watching your painted or stained decking wear or peel off every season.

Is there any good way of using a surface screw? Yes, by pre-drilling, and using the appropriate countersink bit beforehand.

How else do we avoid splinters? By using connecting hardware every time one piece of lumber meets up, or butts up, against another. The key is avoiding the toe nailing technique. Toe nailing, or toe screwing, is a rough framing strategy whereby a nail or screw is inserted at an angle into wood, in close proximity to the just-cut edge. No matter how careful one is when toe nailing (or screwing) the piece being nailed always cracks and splinters, at least slightly.

With rough framing (that’s inevitably hidden inside the wall cavity) this strategy is quite common and poses no issue. In the world of finishing, the toe nailing procedure looks horrible. So, where the 2×4 railing butts up against the 4×4 newel post, or where your 4×4 newel meets the decking platform, use the appropriate connecting brackets.

Now, connecting hardware isn’t cheap, costing at least a few dollars per assembly joint, compared to paying pennies for a couple of nails or screws. However, and again, we’re building a civilized deck here, not a tree fort.

Next, avoid painting or staining when you can. So, be sure to consider the aluminum spindles (available round, square, or in flat iron) instead of wood, and be sure to cap off your newel posts with the matching aluminum caps.

What’s new in deck accessories? The sliding door kit. Swinging doors can sag over time. So, if cordoning off your back deck is necessary, due to having small children, or small puppy dogs on board, consider the very effective, and smooth operating action of a sliding door.

Good building.

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

Civilized decking

Pergolas can be built to allow the light to shine in or for sun protection, or as a stand-alone unit or attached to an existing structure. Postmedia network

With the term civilized defined as ‘bringing a place or people to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced’, and decking defined simply as ‘a wood planked platform or terrace that is attached to a home’, how do we combine the two?

Like everything else, with focus, foresight, and a little determination.

Essentially, we want our deck to be a comfortable place to live on, and not just on those slightly cloudy, 25 degree Celsius days. Which brings us to advanced decking feature no. 1, the SunLouvre pergola.

Scorching sun or a mid-afternoon rain need not send the party indoors. A regular pergola is a good deck feature because it offers partial shade. Partial shade on a sunny afternoon is a good thing. However, when it’s high noon, and the sun’s at its strongest, those pieces of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overhead, fixed in position on their edges, will be offering limited relief. And, if it should happen to rain, well . . . unless you’re a member of our national ballet core, there will be no staying dry under a plank of lumber that’s 1-1/2 inches wide.

So, in comes the SunLouvre pergola. Built completely out of aluminum (making maintenance, staining, and cracks or warpage, a thing of the past) the big advantage to a SunLouvre pergola is that the top sleeves are movable, operating on a system of louvres. This feature allows the homeowner to relax under full sun, full shade, or anything in between.

When the louvres are closed, the sleeves overlap in a manner that prevents rain from entering. So, and unless we’re talking a torrential downpour of biblical proportion, there will be no need to corral your guests indoors at the first sign of a few droplets. In most cases, the pulling down of one mechanism will operate an entire ceiling structure. Although the aluminum columns that support the SunLouvre system are quite decorative, if you’re a wood lover who absolutely wants to keep their wooden columns intact, the SunLouvre system works independently of the posts, and as such, can be custom ordered to fit and operate on an existing wood frame.

Next, if inside storage space is considered to be an essential asset, then it’s going to be just as valuable a commodity outside. Decks can be like any other living space, either spacious and neatly staged, or cluttered with furniture, side tables, and any number of appendages. So, where is a homeowner to store chair cushions and those extra folding chairs?

Plus, decks often cozy up to pools. Pools require brushes and leaf nets, long hoses for vacuuming, and little floaty devices, with all this stuff having to be placed somewhere when not in use. You can always toss these items into a pool or storage shed, but it certainly would be more convenient if things could be tucked away in a drawer.

Which, brings us to advanced decking feature no. 2, the ‘Deck Storage Drawer’. In general, the space underneath a deck would be regarded as a damp, spider infested no man’s land. However, the Deck Storage Drawer changes all that, enabling the homeowner to gain 64 cubic feet of quality, dry storage space. The Deck Storage Drawer is essentially a box of hardware, containing the necessary tracks, wheels, and brackets to assemble (along with the required treated plywood) a drawer that can be up to 48 inches wide x 24 inches deep x 96 inches long, capable of holding up to 250 pounds of whatever you like. The added bonus of the deck drawer is that it doesn’t take up valuable deck floor area, while having about twice the storage capacity of one of those plastic, surface deck boxes. It also comes with its own pull handle and keyed lock mechanism. The front of your Deck Storage Drawer can be finished with whatever product you’ve chosen as a skirting material for around the deck, be it lattice, treated lumber, or composite decking.

Good building.

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