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

Posting a good start

Shane Harris and Travis Bright work on installing new resin and galvanized fence posts into position on Wonderland Road north of Fanshawe Park.in London, Ont. on Thursday July 9, 2015. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network MIKE HENSEN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

With our permit secured, the property line clearly established, and the gas/electrical/cable lines effectively flagged across the lawn, we can begin digging our post holes.

How does a person dig a post hole? Preferably with the help of an auger, driven by mechanized heavy equipment.

What about digging a post hole manually, perhaps engaging your son or nephew in a male bonding type of experience? Not a good idea.

This might have been possible about 100 years ago, when real men waged war during the day, then played hockey at night. Unfortunately, time and the computer age have modified the average male physique to the point where the shoulder and lower back development required to perform the task of repeatedly digging a four-foot hole has been genetically eliminated.

Strangely enough, manual post-hole diggers are still available, but with the design not having changed since the days where men could actually perform this task, your backyard soil would have to have the consistency of butter in order to make this task even somewhat conceivable.

As with all fence projects, the key to success will be the posts’ placement.

The best-case scenario will have your posts buried 48 to 54 inches into the soil, and spaced at every eight feet on centre. Use a mason’s cord to ensure a straight fence line. Pull the mason’s cord tightly along the future fence line, then drop the cord to grass level. Using a tape measure, or preferably a 150-foot open-reel fiberglass tape, mark an “X” on your lawn with a florescent spray paint to designate the post holes, and where the backhoe will drop his auger.

Don’t stake the lawn with pickets, keeping the mason’s line a foot or so above the lawn, using strips of ribbon to designate post placement. You’ll never trip over an X, and it’ll never move.

In order to allow for the three-to-four inches of spacing underneath your fence panels, and at least a few inches of fence post extending above the fence panel, along with the possibility of some variance in soil height, a five-foot fence will require you using 10-foot fence posts, while a six-foor fence will require 12-foot fence posts. Your posts can be made of 4×4 or 6×6 treated lumber.

The 6x6s look better, stay straighter, and are significantly stronger, so they’re definitely the preferred choice.

Securing the fence posts? With the post hole drilled into the soil, insert a sono-tube (cardboard cylinder) into the hole. A 4×4 post will require an eight-inch diameter sono-tube, while a 6×6 post will require a 10-inch cylinder. The sono-tubes are key to containing the concrete and gravel matter that will surround and secure the posts, and help prevent ground moisture from infiltrating this same area around the posts.

Be sure to toss a shovel-full of gravel into the sono-tube before inserting the post. This will help keep the bottom of the post somewhat dry.

If a fence post (regardless of it being a 4×4 or 6×6) is going to have a gate secured to it, with this gate presumably seeing regular swinging use, you’ll be wanting to first toss three-to-four bags of pre-mixed, just add water, concrete into the hole before filling the balance of the space with gravel.

All the other posts will not require cement, and can be secured using a 1/2 to 5/8 gravel mix, or stone dust.

Installing fence posts is minimally a two-person, brawn/brain joint co-ordinated effort. The brawn gently shovels and packs the gravel into the space surrounding the post, while the brain surveys the post leveler, making any necessary adjustments to post lean in an attempt to keep the post perfectly straight and in line with the mason’s cord.

Fence gates? Wooden gate panels can be made to size, but the more decorative wrought-iron type gates will require specific spacing between posts.

So, choose a gate pattern or style before starting the post-hole drilling process.

Next week, creating a great fence panel.

Good building.

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

Solving the water mystery in your basement

This is were water from the weeping tile comes in and were the sump pump is submerged. It’s good practice to have a backup pump installed as well POSTMEDIA FILES

Today we continue our discussion regarding the mystery of basement water, basically asking the questions, where does it come from? And, how do we possibly control it?

Our case study will examine the finished living space of retired crushed-ice salesman, Sam “Slushy” Slushworth, who unfortunately has been spending most of his hours filling the clothes hamper with wet socks due to a number of repeated soakers.

Flooding is lousy, and when it occurs, is best handled by property restoration professionals. They have the pumps, hoses, and drying equipment to return your basement area back to dry in as little time as possible. Getting to dry within a day or two of a flooding is key to avoiding severe damage and mould. Flooding similar to Mr. Slushworth’s case is more of a pain in the butt, but still costly, although most would view the loss of Sam’s 1970s-era orange carpeting as divine intervention to a decorating choice long overdue for renewal.

Because basement floods will often lead to a total loss of flooring, furniture, drywall, and essentially everything except the suspended ceiling tiles and light fixtures, there are strategies to help avoid catastrophe.

One, if you’re dependent on a sump pump to keep things dry, have your local plumber install a second (or back-up pump) in the well. This second pump will be water-driven, as opposed to relying on electrical power. So, if there’s ever a power outage, or the primary pump simply jams due to an influx of granular matter, your basement investment isn’t lost to a malfunctioning $199 pump.

Those homeowners without sump pumps should consider using a dimpled membrane or 2’x2’ dimpled subfloor panel, as opposed to a simple six-millimeter plastic, underneath their chosen flooring.

A dimpled membrane creates a half-inch air space between the concrete floor and the flooring, allowing any water seepage to flow under the floor, depositing in a drain placed in an adjoining storage area or furnace room.

With the carpet removed, and the water stain clearly visible on the concrete floor, Slushy was able to trace back the water infiltration to a spot near the base of the finished wall.

So, is the mystery solved? Are we to simply cut out a narrow strip of drywall, pull back the insulation, and repair what should be a clearly visible crack in the concrete?

Oh, if Slushy could only be so lucky.

Although there exists a one per cent chance the water on the concrete floor is being fed by a crack in the foundation wall directly above it, 99 per cent of the time, water ends up travelling a distance, led by gravity and steered by obstructions, until it presents itself through a gap in the 2×4 framing.

So, if there’s no crack to be found directly above the point at which water is entering the room, is Mr. Slushworth to completely dismantle his drywall and framing in a frantic attempt to find the leak?

Perhaps, but, if this is a first-time occurrence, let’s avoid gutting the basement for now, and instead look at remedying any possible weaknesses in the water-management system outside.

If there’s a crack in your basement’s concrete wall, the repairing and patching of this issue is best done from the exterior.

There are certainly injection-type materials and hydraulic cement compounds that strategically allow the homeowner to attack water infiltration from the inside, but stopping water before it breaches the concrete is best.

Unfortunately, with our propensity to attach decks to our homes, install garden beds, lay interlocking paving stones and pour asphalt driveways directly against our foundation walls, essentially making our concrete foundations as inaccessible as possible, we’re left with either having to destroy our outdoor efforts, or make a mess of our beloved finished basement, in order to find that illusive crack.

Hence the importance of properly sealing a foundation, whether it be new or old, before any serious landscaping action happens.

Next week, managing the water runoff.

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

Dealing with water’s mysterious appearance

Dimpled plastic membrane that can be applied to help direct water away from your foundation and into your weeping tile. VITALIY HALENOV / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

On Nov. 22, 1963, former marine sharpshooter Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at a motorcade from a sixth floor window in Dallas, Texas.

Regardless of the fact his target was moving, and possessing a mail-order rifle procured only months earlier, two out of the three shots are direct hits, instantly killing then-President John F. Kennedy. The degree of difficulty and circumstances relating to the assassination bring forth theories of a conspiracy, with even the possibility of a second shooter.

On June 3, 1934, the drilling and blasting relating to the construction of Highway A82 along the coast of Loch Ness, disturb a sleeping water monster from the depths of the loch, enabling London surgeon R. K. Wilson to take a silhouette type photograph, confirming the existence of Nessie, a creature whose sightings date back to 565 AD.

On March 14, Sam Slushworth descends the stairway towards his finished basement. As he makes his way towards the beer fridge located at the far end of a room not so fashionably decorated in 70s-styled wood paneled walls, a Mickey Mouse clock, and bright orange-carpeting, he experiences the uncomfortable sensation one gets when moisture quickly makes its way into your socks, the dreaded soaker.

Examining the room, Slushy notices a few other areas where water has seemingly infiltrated the carpet.

Was there a conspiracy to kill the president? Does an ancient sea dinosaur inhabit the depths of Loch Ness? And, where did Mr. Slushworth’s basement water come from?

Unfortunately, all are yet to be solved mysteries.

However, we will qualify ourselves to explore a few hypotheses regarding basement water, dismissing the two other mysteries until another day.

A basement is kind of like the hull of a ship, and is essentially a concrete tub surrounded by groundwater. However, and unlike the hull of a boat, which can be made of such impermeable products as steel, fiberglass, or some type of plastic, basement walls (including the ICF foam block systems) are largely made of concrete— a solid, but still very porous, type of material.

Basement floors are also made of concrete, solid but again, in no way impervious to water.

So, how’s a homeowner to defend against water infiltrating the basement, when the basement walls and floors inherently allow moisture to pass through?

Until somebody comes up with a suitable alternative to concrete, the homeowner is left with little choice but to seal their concrete walls and floors by the best means possible.

If you’re having a home built for you this spring, or will be buying a home presently under construction, then the answer to having a dry basement for the next 30 years – dismissing any natural disasters of course – is simple. Take the $5,000 to $6,000 you’ve budgeted for a big screen TV, dual chaise loungers equipped with cup holders and cooler, along with voice-activated lighting, or any other non-essential expense, and steer these funds directly into the concrete foundation fund.

If you plan on finishing your basement, then avoiding water infiltration will be absolutely essential. If a finished basement flood is something you’ve experienced in the past, then the frustration and trauma of surviving that issue is no doubt fresh in your mind.

So, be sure to demand nothing short of the best in foundation-sealing techniques this time around.

Basement floors should have a 10-millimetre plastic vapour barrier and two-inch thick rigid foam directly under the concrete slab.

Your basement’s concrete wall should be sealed with a rubber membrane, followed by a one-inch thick layer of comfortboard (rock fibre matting), then draped with a continuous roll of plastic dimpled membrane.

As a result, how the contractor plans on sealing your foundation is a conversation every homeowner should be a part of.

Due to Mr. Slushworth’s water issues happening after the concrete membrane had been installed, and the foundation backfilled, this foundation breach could be a very costly fix.

Next week, we investigate the possibilities.

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

It’s a cake walk

This kind of deterioration of parging is common. Not to worry though, it’s a pretty easy fix. Postmedia Network KEVIN GOULD / KEVIN GOULD/STANDARD-FREEHOLDER

In keeping with our do-it-yourself motto of “you’ve got to try it at least once” today we’re going to be parging our foundation.

After a home’s foundation has been poured, and the plywood forms removed, the homeowner is left with an exposed concrete wall that isn’t so attractive. In order to remedy this situation, since there’s often 30-36 inches of exposed wall between the grass and the siding, the contractor will apply a thin coat of a cement product called pargemix.

The same situation exists with today’s foam foundations. Whatever portion of foam that isn’t covered by siding, will need to be sealed with a parging compound.

Because all homes settle a bit over time, this thin coat of concrete can develop a few hairline cracks. As water and moisture enter these cracks, thereby infiltrating this cement layer, the parging will tend to break off in small chunks over time, once again exposing the foundation’s rough surface.

The good thing about the task of parging is that it’s a non-structural operation. Parging is essentially a decorative, or esthetic feature. So, if the parge mix happens to fall off in a month or two, or your habit of creating cupcakes with lopsided frosting tops somehow transfers to a foundation wall that is somewhat less than perfectly smooth and level, only your pride and status as a true do-it-yourselfer will be hurt.

However decorative, parging is still the first line of defence against water penetrating the foundation. So, and regardless of the fact a foundation simply looks better after it’s been parged, parging does serve a purpose.

When parging a concrete foundation wall, first tap off or chip away any loose pieces of existing cement with a small hammer and concrete chisel, then sweep things clean using a steel brush. Other tools for the job will include a clean 20L. pail, 24” drywall mixer, 4”x12” cement trowel, 4”x9” sponge rubber float, a notched trowel, margin or pointing trowel, and a tin can or similar type container for scooping.

The drywall mixer attaches to any standard drill, and is essentially a giant beater blade that will blend your pargemix compound in the same manner a power mixer stirs up a cake mix. Besides saving you time and energy, the mixer is key to avoiding further wear and tear on those achy shoulder and elbow joints.

Once the concrete surface has been brushed clean, rinse the area to be covered with your garden hose. Next, pour four litres of water into your pail, then slowly scoop the 30 kg bag of pargemix into the pail, while at the same time operating your drywall mixer. To increase the sticking power of your pargemix, you can replace one litre of water with a one litre bottle of “All-Crete”, a concrete adhesive designed especially to encourage new concrete to stick to old.

Mix the pargemix/water solution for about five minutes. With the pargemix at a nice, spreading consistency (add more water if it’s too thick) use your smaller margin or pointing trowel to gather up a load of pargemix out of the pail, then place this mass on your 4”x12” cement trowel, then apply it to the wall. Start at the bottom (grass level) spreading the pargemix onto the wall as you move your trowel vertically upwards. Perform a few more vertical strips, then work your trowel horizontally to spread things out. A dampened sponge trowel will further help smoothen the parging compound.

Pargemix should be applied no more than half an inch thick. If your foundation wall is severely pitted, you can apply a thin coat on day one, then a second layer a day later. If a second layer is in the plan, etch your first layer with a notched trowel before it dries. This will give the second layer something to grab onto.

If you’re parging a foam foundation, prepare the surface by fastening diamond lath to the foam blocks using deck screws and foam washers.

Good building.

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

That’s a wrap

When building, we need to wrap or protect most of the lumber, while leaving a portion exposed so that the wood may be allowed to ìbreatheî or basically expel moisture at a more natural rate. Postmedia Network

I think the inventors of Baggies sandwich bags, and Saran Wrap, are two of the most intelligent and opportunist people in the world. Intelligent because they’ve managed to develop a lightweight, flexible, and user friendly manner of sealing and protecting foodstuffs. Opportunists because they’ve not only developed something useful, but have enabled us, as humans, to fulfill one of our most instinctive and powerful needs, and that’s the simple desire of wanting to wrap things.

What do we do with a newborn baby? Although it’s referred to as a swaddle, we’re essentially wrapping ‘em. Bloody finger? Wrap it. Christmas gifts, sprained ankle, hole in the car’s muffler? Wrap, wrap, wrap.

After supper the other night, I wrapped or bagged 10 different leftover items and tossed them in the fridge. Approximately 50 per cent of these items will see action in the immediate future, two to three things might be caught in time for use, with the last one or two items forgotten and allowed to develop into 15 types of mold. Regardless, they were all good wraps.

What do we do with a staff meeting that’s gone 30 minutes into overtime? We wrap it up. So, what do we do with basically any wood project or structure? Well, if you’re still not sure as to the theme of this week’s rant, for the good of the wood, you wrap it. For all intents and purposes, plywoods, basic framework, and wooden posts, will stick around for the long term if they’re kept dry. The strategy to keeping wood dry in a four season climate such as ours is challenging because wood is a product that naturally absorbs moisture. So, with a “dry season” unfortunately not forming part of the four seasons we experience, our plywoods and 2×4 framing lumber are always in a state where they’re retaining some level of humidity, regardless of the fact the lumber was kiln dried at some point in its production. As a result, we can’t simply saran wrap every piece of lumber because that would trap the humidity, which would lead to our lumber looking like the aforementioned science experiment regarding the 15 types of mold. Instead, we need to wrap or protect most of the lumber, while leaving a portion of the plywood or lumber exposed (with these exposed sides usually facing the interior of the building) so that the wood may be allowed to “breathe” or basically expel moisture at a more natural rate.

So, whether you’re building a shed, or 3000 sq. ft. home, we always protect the plywood walls with a house wrap. Because the interior, or what’s referred to as the warm side of a standard, insulated wall, must have a plastic vapor barrier, in order to prevent moisture from entering the wall cavity, the outside wall cannot be saran wrapped, or covered in the same manner, because that would trap the moisture already in the plywood, and stud framework. So, we cover the exterior wall with a house wrap, a product that sheds water, should rain or snow makes its way past the siding, but is still porous enough to allow the wood to breathe.

Our plywood roofs require the same type of protection. Although asphalt paper was for the longest time the product of choice, synthetic felts are the better product. Similar to a house wrap, synthetic roof felts shed water and breathe. However, they differ from house wraps in that they reflect UV light, and are far superior to paper felts because they can protect a roof for up to six months, which is a real bonus when inclement weather causes unforeseen delays.

Other areas in need of protection are the wooden framework around windows and doors. When the caulking around a window or door frame begins to shrink or crack, water infiltrates into the wall and puddles on the sill, leading to mold or rot. For this reason, we now wrap three out of the four sides of the wooden frames with a rubberized membrane.

Next week, more on wraps. Good building.

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

Making a house wish list

Nothing like the view from a balcony, though most aren’t as high as this one. Postmedia Network

Building a home this spring? Or, looking to gain a little more living space by putting on an addition?

If this is the case, let’s examine the wish list of home features you and your spouse, if there’s a bit of wiggle room in the budget, and if the landscape permits, should be discussing with your architect.

Please note that the following suggestions are a wish list, as opposed to a dream list of home features. Dream lists are like dream homes, very costly. Wish lists, on the other hand, are far from free, with the following suggestions, or recommendations, no doubt costing you more money than had you stuck with a standard eight ft. deep, rectangular foundation. However, these upgrades are game changers, with the added value of these great home features further differentiating your home from the masses, unless of course everybody starts modifying their homes in the same manner.

Wish list modification #1, the walk out basement. Basically, you’re replacing about six-eight feet of poured concrete with a sliding patio door. The benefit to a walkout basement is of course the fact you’ve now linked the buried portion of your home to the exterior. With an abundance of natural light, and a straight out access to the back yard, you’ll be effectively turning what was traditionally a dungeon, into comfortable living space.

A key factor in making a walkout basement a reality will be the landscaping. How your property manages the rain and snow melt will be essential construction details. Structurally, the walkout basement is a very doable, and feasible adaptation to most regular foundations.

The challenge will lie in preventing the water runoff from pooling at what will be the lowest point of the above grade portion of the home, which will be where the basement’s patio door meets your concrete or interlocking stone platform. So, once the walkout basement has been engineered and drawn up on paper, hand the plans over to a landscape designer. Don’t move forward on your walkout basement project until a landscape designer or engineer, can figure out where to divert the rain water.

Next, if your home or addition is going to have a second story, consider having a balcony extending off the master bedroom. If a walkout basement is going to be a reality, then a balcony overtop makes for the perfect house accompaniment. Basically, balconies are like backyard decks, there’s no mistake to be made with having one, other than going too small. So, whether a balcony is designed to serve a specific room, or extend the entire width of the home, you’re always going to enjoy time spent on a balcony. Similar to a walkout basement, a balcony added to a home after the fact will incur plenty of engineering and construction costs, while making it part of the original plans basically requires the contractor extending the floor joists and pouring a few cement footings in order to accept the supporting pillars. So, if there’s room in the budget, do the balcony now.

Reasons for a balcony? Better sun, better breeze, better view, if it’s a choice between deck or balcony, the balcony is always a better experience. Plus, the security, tranquility, and peace of mind to being on a balcony simply makes it superior to ground level living. When you’re on your balcony, enjoying an early morning coffee, or late night tea, the odds of you being interrupted by the neighbor’s cat, or the neighbor’s dog, or the neighbor, drop to zero.

Next, consider installing skylights. General work areas such as your kitchen, bathroom, or exercise room, will benefit greatly from the supplementary, natural light offered by a couple of skylights. Now, you may ask, don’t skylights leak? Like everything else, they leak eventually. So, and like everything else, some maintenance is required. Regardless, skylights are a terrific modification.

Next week, more wish list tips. Good building.

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