It’s not like clearing the bases

File No.327, titled “over-scrubbed,” has us examining the case regarding a Miss Sandra Scrub, aka the “scrubber,” due to her position of batting cleanup (fourth in the lineup) on her ladies’ ‘Suds and Duds Laundromat’ softball team.

With a slugging percentage (SLG) of .917, superior to Major League Baseball’s Babe Ruth and current SLG record holder Barry Bonds, the scrubber’s reputation of clearing the bases has become so renowned, the streets surrounding Suds and Duds field often lay vacant during the Tuesday night ladies’ league, due to local motorists fearing another home-run ball shattering their windshields.

Unfortunately, the scrubber’s proficiency in cleaning up whatever teammates were hanging around on the bases, has led to rather over exuberant behaviour regarding her kitchen and living room floors. Essentially, our Miss Scrub has been cleaning her ceramic and hardwoods with the same diligence used to clean runners off the bases.

Having a heavy stick when batting cleanup is no doubt a good thing. Using this same heavy manner to clean your floors, well— that’s not so good.

A most recent episode had Sandra becoming frustrated with a cooking oil stain on her recently purchased porcelain tile. When the yellowish blob refused to wipe up cleanly with a dry cloth, due in part to the tile having an anti-skid type of texture, the scrubber’s first thought was to solve this annoyance with a blow torch.

After a moment of reflection, she instead reached for the bottle of CLR cleaner under the sink. Miss Scrub, being a heavy hitter, doesn’t just wipe up a floor stain, she nails it out of the park.

Unfortunately, in the world of floor care, continued use of too aggressive a cleaner will often cause collateral damage to the floor. After a few weeks of general cleaning, Sandra noticed the finish on her porcelain tile becoming rather dull, and with this being a relatively new floor, called the supplier to issue a complaint.

As far as the scrubber was concerned, she had purchased a ceramic tile of lesser quality, sealed with a finish that had simply worn off, with general stains or spillages now being more difficult to remove. In hindsight, Miss Scrub would have probably done less damage to her porcelain had she gone with her original thought of using a blow torch to clean up spills.

Pre-finished hardwood, ceramic, and vinyl floors are coated with several coats of sealer that are intended to provide the homeowner with 10-to-15 years of solid, reflective surface. In the case of PVC luxury vinyl floors and stone composite floorings, consumers can expect those finishes to last 25-plus years.

However, these potential years of finish can be reduced to a few months by using the wrong cleaning products.

CLR is a fine cleaner, but like the letters represent, is designed to clean off calcium, lime, or rust – some pretty stubborn components – and not chocolate, linguine, and red wine.

How do you know a cleaning product might be too harsh for your floor? When the fine print warns you against getting product on your skin or clothing, and failure to seek immediate medical attention after simply inhaling or ingesting the product may result in death.

When it comes to floor cleaners, I recommend people look for products with the GreenGuard symbol, along with the not-so-intimidating picture of baby feet walking on a floor. This, as opposed to those products with skull and cross bones, or exploding canister as their claim to fame.

As to floor cleaning strategies? One, purchase cleaners expressively designed to clean your specific floor. And two, when purchasing flooring, don’t go home without the cleaners and maintenance products as well. Otherwise, you’re likely to pull out the CLR, or Mr. Clean.

In Miss Scrub’s case, the finish on her porcelain tile has nearly been completely removed by non-flooring type cleaners, leaving her with two choices, either have the tiles re-glazed, or replaced in their entirety.

With that decision pending, case No. 327 was closed.

Good building.

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

Dig into the reasons for excavating

London home builder Doug Wastell shows off foundation wrap on a partially built home in a new residential area on Sunningdale Road in London, Ontario on Tuesday June 3, 2014. CRAIG GLOVER/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb excavate as; to dig out and remove.

The homeowners’ manual is a little more descriptive, describing excavate as; the opportunity to create an enormous mess, where one can expect incredible collateral damage affecting one’s lawn and perimeter fixtures, hourly fees that rival those of Manhattan lawyers, along with a general disturbance to the immediate neighborhood.

So, why put yourself through the stress of an excavation, which essentially means creating a moat around the perimeter of your home? Because if you’ve got persistent or regular water infiltration issues, and family members are no longer believing the three-to-four inches of water found in the basement every spring are your attempts at a cistern – a system of harvesting rainwater that dates back to the Neolithic age, or about 5,000 before Christ – then excavation may be your only salvation.

Plus, water issues eventually lead to mould issues. If thoughts are to eventually sell your home, this could be a deal breaker, because prospective buyers will definitely be leery of investing in a house with water-infiltration issues.

Furthermore, you can never underestimate the value of simply being dry.

Whether the basement’s future involves being transferred into added living area, or simply kept as storage space, dry will be a welcomed luxury if you’ve ever had water issues in the past.

Finally, don’t underestimate the familiar adage “location, location, location.” If you love your home, and if your home’s in a preferred neighborhood, then putting money into your foundation, what’s essentially a key element to a home’s comfort and stability, is always a good value investment.

How will excavating a foundation solve a home’s water issues? By transcending your home’s foundation into the 21st century, enabling it to be cleaned, repaired of any cracks or fissures, and re-sealed with any number of synthetic foundation membranes.

Once the foundation wall is sealed, a new length of weeping tile with a crushed gravel bed would be positioned at the footing, following the perimeter of the foundation, effectively directing rain and snow melt away from the home.

Most often, it’s the fear of total upheaval that stops homeowners from performing this big task. And, it’s understandable. Homes requiring this type of renovation are often 30-to-100 years old, and have longstanding driveways, decks, and garden areas that would be a shame to destroy.

Regardless, the long-term viability of a foundation far outweighs the loss of what are basically appendages. Basically, flowers and shrubs can be replanted, decks rebuilt, and driveways repaved.

What about excavating your foundation from the inside? I don’t like this idea for two reasons.

One, you’re basically creating a mess of dust and debris that will be extremely disruptive, with concrete waste materials being transferred to the outside of the home, then placed in garbage bins regardless. And two, creating the required trench along the inside of your foundation wall will require the use of a jackhammer, a tool designed by the devil himself. Besides delivering a rumble that’ll shake the home and have your canned goods toppling out of your cupboards, unless you’ve rented a room at the local Inn, the jackhammer’s reverberating sound may very well drive you to the brink of insanity.

So, how’s that compare to losing a few shrubs, or replacing a deck that more than likely could use some enhancements anyway?

The best time of year to perform an excavation? Spring and fall, while the temperatures are most favorable for everything from the installation of rubber membranes, to the driving of the backhoe and spreading of the gravel.

Where to start? Familiarize yourself with some of the various foundation wraps and membranes by visiting your local building supply centre. Because this is the last time you’re ever going to have to perform this task, choosing the best of materials will be important.

The building supply people will also be able to suggest to you a few reputable, local homebuilders and contractors familiar with this type of project.

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

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

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

Panelling success for your fence

Today we’re building a great fence, a beautiful fence, a most powerful fence panel that’ll rank second only to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in its effectiveness in deterring invaders and neighbourhood undesirables.

However, instead of concrete, our fence panels will be constructed of treated lumber and wrought iron. Plus, armed security personnel, drone surveillance, and video monitoring will remain optional considerations.

The bulk of the fence panel will be formed with 1×6 fence boards, along with a combination of 2×4 and 2×6 framing lumber, while a wrought-iron, 12-inch high, picketed-lattice type of crown will provide the panel its décor, ultimate intimidation, and definitely its “wow” factor.

Wood on its own is nice, but essentially lacks something. Steel or wrought iron on its own is beautiful, but maybe a little too correctional or institutional. By combining the two, you get a fence that states we’re not necessarily keeping anybody in, or anybody out, but we enjoy our privacy.

Besides simply being attractive, a fence panel must have two other qualities.

One, that it be serviceable.

And two, that it be removable.

Fence brackets, the U-shaped hardware that connects the 2×4 or 2×6 horizontal framing to the fence posts, might not be the carpenter’s way of creating a butt joint, but it’s got to be the fence-builder’s way. That’s because stuff happens in the life of a fence that may require you having to remove or replace a panel.

If a backyard pool is in your future, backhoes are rarely successful in squeezing themselves through 36-inch wide gate openings. Or, the building of a utility or storage shed would certainly be facilitated by the delivery people being able to access your backyard.

And, with the teen next door most recently having acquired their driving licence, the odds of your neighbours’ Ford Windstar making its way through your fence and into your backyard at 3 a.m. on an early Sunday morning has now increased tenfold.

So, for these reasons, we make fence panels removable. Fence panels need to be serviceable in order for them to have any type of longevity. Non serviceable fence panels are those where the 1×6 fencing planks have been fastened to the 2×4 cross members using nails, in a board over board, or good-neighbour type of pattern. Nails make removing a fencing plank without destroying the board almost impossible, while a board on board, offsetting type of plank placement is extremely awkward to paint or stain.

As a result, the crooked or cracked planks that need replacement are rarely removed, and the fencing lumber never gets protected with either a clear sealer or coat of stain.

In order to make a fence panel serviceable, the installer will need to make the 1×6 fencing planks easily removable, which means simply using the appropriate length decking screws.

The fencing planks will also need to be easily stainable, which is best achieved by installing the 1×6 planks vertically, placing one plank up tightly against the next, as you move laterally across the horizontal framing members.

The horizontal framing members should be comprised of two 2×6 treated studs (with one placed at the top of the panel, and one at the bottom) along with a 2×4 horizontal stud going across the middle of the panel, in order to prevent warping. The top of the fence panel should then be capped with a 2×4 stud, which will prevent water from entering the soft end grain, or Achilles heel of any fence plank.

Instead of crowning the fence panel with a traditional wood lattice, the enlightened fence designer would choose from a series of wrought-iron lattice designs.

Fence gate? Go with either a wood/iron frame combo, which would offer privacy, or a wrought iron gate, with its iron bars and curved, pointed spindling, adding a medieval touch.

Post caps? Choose the matching iron caps, they’ll look great, and best protect the post’s end grain.

Good building.

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