Surveys make ‘fence’ between neighbours

An October 2008 file photo of Ron Denis of land survey firm Farley Smith and Denis, with his survey equipment. JULIE OLIVER/OTTAWA CITIZEN/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today, we put to paper a plan to fortify our home’s perimeter, initiating a strategy that’ll forever protect our backyard property from those undesirables set on disturbing our goal of privacy and tranquility.

In other words, we’re building a fence.

Two things to consider before planting a post hole-drilling auger into the soil.

One, fences require permits, so be sure to get one.

And two, know the exact location of your property line.

Unfortunately, fencing is like any other home renovation, in that its manner of construction is guided by rules. So, if you were planning on topping your fence with a department of corrections-approved razor wire, and installing electrical power around all possible points of entry with a shock surge capable of incapacitating a 200-pound man, then the city officials may ask you to modify your drawings.

Where you build your fence isn’t such a concern for the city, unless of course you end up placing some of your fencing, or parts thereof, on city property.

Other entities that may show concern for your haphazard drilling of holes along perceived property lines are your neighbors. So, if a fence is in the plans, have your property surveyed.

If, on the other hand, good ol’ Mr. MacTavish, your friendly neighbour of 15 years, has you thinking you can save yourself $500 on the cost of procuring a survey by settling on a designated property line together, relying on your good relationship to keep things cordial, give your head a shake.

Guaranteed, the moment you finish your fence line, ol’ Mr. MacTavish drops dead like a sack of potatoes after choking on his haggis. The new owner of the property, a Mr. Chauncey MacDonald, moves in a week later, and while being not so happy to discover your ancestors might have participated in the death of his forefathers at the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, decides to test the integrity of this fence line by having the property surveyed.

Guaranteed, just like the time you decided to forgo the information search and invest in steam-engine auto technology, your best-guess fence location strategy is going to end up biting you on the ass.

Often, neighbours will choose a mid-point between two homes or properties in order to establish the likelihood of the property line. This can be faulty reasoning, because most homes see some type of renovation over the years, whereby extra garage, deck, or living space is added to the width of the home, often encroaching upon the home’s property line.

When this happens, the dividing line between properties becomes far from the centre point, which will only be an issue years later when new, unassuming owners move in, and start making undocumented land decisions.

So, to avoid the awkwardness of having a new neighbour, a neighbour who essentially has pre-judged you as descendants of brutal thugs who had stolen land from his family only 300 years before, presenting you with a document indicating your fence has been constructed three feet onto his property, we get a survey.

With the perimeter lines of your property clearly established by the survey, you can begin to plan out the post placement.

If the fence is to be yours, then the posts should be wholly placed on your side of the line. This strategy will cost you a little of your backyard square footage, but will at least ensure the decisions regarding the look and status of the fence to be entirely yours.

What about shared fencing?

As with anything shared between neighbours, whether it be a fence or a snow scraper, this type of scenario is probably best avoided.

Next, what about fence height and fence building materials?

Both will fall under the scrutiny of your city permit, whereby your idea to raise emus and other exotic birds by building a 12-foot perimeter wall with used sheets of galvanized steel roofing, will most likely be discouraged.

Next week, the best fence.

Good building.

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

Avoiding a Foolish Decision

29 BM? C Parker3 Nancy cc-cataloged cc-cataloged SUE REEVE / LONDON FREE PRESS

Spring can be a time for foolish behaviour.

We can foolishly fall in love. We can foolishly root for one of our Canadian based hockey teams to make it into the second round of the NHL playoffs. And, we can foolishly buy a home.

Time will soften a heartbreak, and even though the nights and hours invested in watching your team crash during the playoffs essentially forfeited your viewing of “Game of Thrones” finale season, the re-runs will still be pretty good. But, invest in a home that soon proves to be nothing more than a money pit?

Well, not only will you experience continued heartbreak, and time wasted searching for home remedies, but you’ll likely come face to face with financial disaster, successfully completing the foolish behaviour trifecta.

There are many factors and emotions that can sway people into buying a home, making it almost impossible to compile a list of do’s and don’ts regarding what makes for a good home, or a solid investment. Basically, the bottom line is, “know what you’re getting into”. This can only be accomplished by gathering information.

If your search for home details reveal a basement that floods every March 21st, plumbing that flows well enough in June, but not so good in January, and a roof that only leaks when the rains blow in from the east, but you’re still sold on the joint because the pond in the backyard reminds you of summers spent feeding the ducks at Gramma’s house, then your signing was at least based on the fact you were well informed.

Basically, ‘location’ is what most often drives the value of a home, almost regardless of the home’s condition. So, if you had to follow one real estate ‘safety net’ rule of thumb that would limit your financial risk, you can rarely go wrong buying the worst house on the best street.

Any deviation from this general rule and all bets are off. First and foremost, if there’s a home that’s of interest to you, be sure to either have it checked by a certified home inspector or be sure to specify in the home buyer’s contract that agreeing to purchase the home will be dependent on the home inspection meeting your expectations as the buyer.

Home inspections may vary in price due to the size of the home, but whatever the cost, it’ll be far less than the surprise investment of remedying moisture issues and mold in your child’s bedroom, or a crack in the sunroom’s concrete floor, that all went unnoticed until three months into your purchase.

Regardless of a home inspectors experience and familiarity with the home construction biz, all they can judge and comment on is what is visible. Unfortunately, home inspectors aren’t permitted to pull back the carpet to verify for rot or remove a piece of window casing to confirm the existence of foam insulation around the frame. So, as the buyer, your third or fourth set of eyes will be key to gathering intelligence.

First, know the age of the home your buying, or if it’s been renovated, the age of the components. Walking into a time-warp of a house that contains a different colour of carpet in every room, and re-runs of the Brady Bunch playing on the 26” Sony Trinitron, could be a sign that nothing much has changed in 25-30 years. In this case, the home’s cabinetry, light fixtures, as well as the furnace and cooling systems, will all be due for replacement. Next, ask for an ownership history of the house.

If the home has had several 1-3 year tenants, this could be a sign that this home has several issues. So, inspect this place thoroughly.

Finally, if there have been renovations, where are the work permits? People complain about the permit process, but I tell ya, there’s no better, or more powerful proof that you’ve renovated your place right, than by showing a potential buyer you’ve followed the building code.

Good home shopping.

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

Touch-it-once siding options

Conrad Hofmeister, a siding installer with Trend Home Improvement, uses a hammer to nail vinyl siding to a house while standing on a platform near 98 Street and 79 Avenue on Monday July 6, 2015 in Grande Prairie, Alta. ALEXA HUFFMAN/GRANDE PRAIRIE DAILY HERALD-TRIBUNE/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Last week, we talked about the “touch it once” theory, and how the discipline of touching notes and other paperwork only once will prove a useful strategy in clearing up your desk area.

A de-cluttered desk reduces stress, increases your energy and workplace efficiency, and will create more free time to complete other tasks or move on to other things.

So, how can we relate the practice of touch it once to the home renovation or building biz? And, most importantly, how can we benefit from it?

Well, there are certain likes and dislikes to owning a home.

What we homeowners dislike is having to do a job twice, or consistently maintain a product. What we tend to like is free time, enabling us to enjoy all the fun things we’ve purchased for ourselves.

So, it stands to reason, if your goal is to do less home maintenance and gain more free time, then choosing home products that need only be touched once should be your guide to future purchases.

Last week we mentioned the value of extending the warranty on your asphalt roofing shingles another five years by opting for the Weather-Tite roofing system, which is an installation program that has a certified roofer following a specific series of shingle-application procedures. For a few hundred dollars more, an extra five years of not having to deal with roofing issues will be a welcome return on that investment.

When it comes to choosing an exterior siding for your home, any little piggy will suggest you stick with brick or stone. Lasting several generations, the chances of a homeowner needing to touch their brick or stone siding a second time are between zero and none.

Should a home settle over the years, hairline cracks could develop in the mortar, which will be an easy fix for your local mason. Otherwise, a brick home signifies absolute stability, delivering the best in long term home value.

If future home renovations include replacing your existing wood siding, installing regular brick and stone, and the aforementioned mortar, could prove challenging (but not impossible) if your present home has a foundation whose ledge is not wide enough to support the depth and weight of a brick or stone product.

However, there are dry-stack (no mortar required) stone alternatives, such as the Fusion Stone product, whose system of clips allows the installer to fasten this man-made stone onto a regular exterior plywood wall. No mortar required, and no foundation modifications or engineering feats need be blueprinted.

Fusion Stone offers a lifetime warranty on a siding product that like the brick and stone originals, will last for generations.

Other long-term siding investments include Hardie Board, which is a fibre cement product, and vinyl siding, with both products having 50-year warranties.

Hardie Board is a painted product, so although the fibre cement will never rot or deteriorate, its painted finish may require attention in 15 to 20 years.

Vinyl siding, on the other hand, should have its substrate and colour last the full 50 years, which makes it most likely the second-best value to brick or stone. Regardless of vinyl being this great value, with basically zero maintenance – unless of course some little punk fires a puck into it, or dad sets the barbecue at 600 F then parks it a couple of inches away from the wall – some home renovators or builders may dismiss vinyl siding as too cheap an alternative.

True, the regular horizontal vinyl siding line of products is relatively inexpensive, while having little fortitude or product integrity to defend against even mid-range product shock. However, that’s what you get for $0.65 per square foot.

But, if you take the time to look at some of the slightly heavier vinyl sidings, with a slightly higher cost of course, most homeowners would be quite impressed with the texture, vivid colour, and structural integrity of these premium products.

Next week: touching things once means saying “bye-bye” to wood.

Good building.

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

The nose knows when to bail on this cottage

Expanding polyurethane foam in spray cans is an essential ingredient when insulating and an excellent adhesive for fastening rigid foam insulation. It is indispensable for air-sealing around the edges of the sheets. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Today we continue our following of famed local home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, as he meticulously examines a peculiar waterfront home that is for sale.

Bill Granite, the potential buyer of this home, and the one responsible for the hiring of Nailbucket Home Inspections, will not be continuing the tour. Unfortunately, our Mr. Granite is clearly dejected by the revealed failings of this home so far, including a cracked foundation, negative sloping landscape, and decking platforms that require a complete reconstruction.

With his dreams of cottage life fading, he’s found himself a comfortable spot down by the water, and for the past few hours has been true to his nickname, passing his time quaffing ale, then crushing the empty tins against his forehead, followed by unceremoniously tossing these tins into Lake Ontario.

From this point on, Crushers’ contribution to the inspection will regrettably be unintelligible babble.

At present, we find ourselves in the home’s basement, with our Clouseau scenting a problem. Besides the obvious moisture issues, evidenced by two dehumidifiers running full-blast, our inspector was detecting a further, potentially more serious problem.

Due to Jack’s rather large schnoz, a hereditary trait passed on by generations of Nailbuckets and Clouseaus, our inspector is capable of discerning odours and smells in the range of one part per million, placing him second only to the American bloodhound in scent detection.

After only a few minutes in the basement, Clouseau noted the presence of mould. Was the mould severe? No, but the 2×8 joists and plywood flooring were in some areas the same colour as the area’s native speckled trout, while being somewhat cool and moist to the touch, which isn’t good.

For some unknown reason, the basement floor was unfinished, having only a gravel base. In a poor attempt to somewhat control the moisture coming from the soil, and concrete block walls, a six-millimetre plastic had been spread and taped over the gravel floor and walls.

The basement housed the furnace, water purification systems, and other electrical units, so this was indeed an area that saw semi-regular human activity.

The problem was this basement was more designed as a cold storage, with an environment better suited to house this year’s batch of pickled beets, than human life. What to do?

Essentially, this area needs to be humanized, which means switching the basement environment from wet and damp, to warm and dry.

First, we’ll need to quash the basement floor humidity issue by installing a layer of two-inch pink rigid foam board, providing R-10 of thermal value, over the existing gravel and poly.

The floor should then be covered with four inches of concrete, spread directly over the foam. This modification would raise the floor about six-to-seven inches, which will also involve raising the furnace, likely affecting the ductwork. With the present basement height being a simply adequate 80 inches, this raising of the floor isn’t devastating news, since 80 per cent of the population will still feel comfortable navigating the area.

Next, the furnace’s ductwork system, now feeding only the living spaces above, will need to accept further venting and cold air returns in order to service the basement.

If we’re creating a living space out of the basement, or at least making it comfortable, then we’ll need to keep the heat in the space by installing a rigid foam board against the block walls, followed by 2×4 framing, then the appropriate levels of fiberglass pink insulation.

Or, forget the whole basement idea, move the furnace and mechanical systems to the main floor, insulate the floor, then seal the basement off altogether.

Simply put, this was a home that required a lot of work, but was fortunately situated on a beautiful lot. Essentially, a situation where all it takes is money to make things better.

With that information, our Mr. Granite accepted the report of our Clouseau, then graciously poured himself into a cab. Case #823 closed.

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

This ain’t no cottage

The Cottages on Salt Spring Island. Courtesy, Steve MacNaull

Case No. 823, titled “The year-long investment,” has Mr. Bill Granite, aka “Crusher” to his buddies – due in part to Granite’s profession of pounding stones into gravel, and being capable of reducing an expired beer can into a pancake by firmly pressing it against his forehead – looking to spend his weekends by the water.

As a result, a “Cottage for sale” sign, located about 2.5 hours from his Toronto home, has garnered his attention.

First, I think we need to have the Webster Dictionary people either eliminate the term cottage from our vocabulary, or come up with a better word to define what exactly people are getting themselves into.

As I recall, our cottage on Stanley Island was essentially a four-wall, one-roof, 20’ x 30’ structure, supported by concrete blocks about two feet off the ground. By today’s standards, it would be like building a residence on top of a standard backyard deck.

We had electricity, and indoor plumbing, with the water pumped into the cottage directly from the river.

Water purification system? None that I can recall, other than a piece of metal screening loosely fitted at the submerged end of the flexible pipe. The screen basically prevented small stones and sea shells from entering the system, with river bacteria and most other components allowed to flow in freely. But hey, we were always healthy, and rarely missed a day of work or play.

Upon arriving at this residence for the first time, it was clearly evident that this structure was not a cottage, at least by my definition.

What stood before us was a nice, but still modest, 1,600-square-foot bungalow, equipped with all the heating, cooling, multiple bath and shower conveniences of any regular home. The house also had a full basement, which spanned most of the home’s square footage, with the exception of the crawl space found under a most recent addition.

Essentially, this was a home, and would have been called such in any other environment, except for the fact there was a great big expanse of water in front of it, thereby earning its classification as a cottage.

Besides having country experienced friends on board to offer advice, Crusher also engaged the help of a professional home inspector, which is a good idea, and something I would definitely recommend all potential home buyers do before signing on the dotted line.

Friends will usually tell you all the good things about the home, while a home inspector will do a thorough inspection (which should take about two-to-three hours) then give you the straight facts about the joint.

After walking through the home and inspecting the grounds, there were minor issues here and there that were certainly noteworthy, however, the big issue from my perspective, and the one undeniable factor regarding this purchase, was the fact this was an investment in a second home, not a cottage.

Prepping our cottage for the winter months meant disconnecting the water pump, pulling the line out of the river, boarding up a few windows and doors, then motioning to the summer homestead with a final “see ya in six months” salute.

You can’t do that with a modern home, unless of course it’s located in Arizona, where the humidity varies from dry, to very dry.

However, this residence faces the winds of Lake Ontario 365 days per year— winds that’ll not only be pelting this home with rain, snow, and sleet every other weekend, but will be enveloping this house with sufficient humidity to effectively grow mushrooms on the ceilings. The battle to keep this “cottage” viable is going to be, like any other home, a full-time job.

So, does a person move forward with such a purchase? As long as you realize you’ll be caring for and paying expenses on two homes, instead of one and a half, like you might have expected, it’s all good.

Next week, the cottage inspection.

Good building.

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