Building your storied mantel

A mantel, which was originally part of a series of architectural mouldings found at a restoration store, adds instant character to this brick fireplace. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Today we’re going to be deciding on how to build our mantel.

Essentially, a shelf becomes a mantel when it’s placed over a fireplace.

When a mantel is supported by two column-like moldings placed on either side of the fireplace, this three-piece unit adopts the more elegant designation of “mantel surround.”

In an effort to simplify things, avoid formality, or guide the style of one’s home towards that of open space contemporary, mantels, as opposed to mantel surrounds, are becoming the decorator’s choice for accessorizing the wall space occupied by a fireplace.

So, with your lonely mantel now expected to bear a large portion of the decorating weight, becoming one of the key components to this accent wall, ranking second only to the fireplace itself, your mantel will need to provide impact.

For this to happen, the mantel is going to require two elements: size and character.

Size can be achieved either by building the mantel to the desired dimensions, by special ordering a solid piece of lumber, or by revitalizing an old barn beam into service. Building a mantel is easy, or like they say, only requires money.

Basically, any mantel found on Houzz or in a decorator’s magazine, can most likely be duplicated by your local building supply dealer’s bath and kitchen cabinet division, or by a local carpenter familiar with this type of finishing artistry.

Custom-made mantels are beautiful, but they usually don’t have any extended value, and carry even less of a story. Unless of course the mantel was made by some aging artisan who recently passed away, which like a piece of art, could elevate the mantel’s value.

Or, ‘legendary story’ value could result if the cabinet maker should have suffered a gruesome beheading after he slipped while trimming the mantel with his radial arm saw. In such a case, the customer would certainly benefit from the added value of their mantel having a history, and a warm, gather-around-the-fireplace type of story to recount to the little tykes on Christmas Eve.

Otherwise, a custom mantel is a rather nondescript piece of work.

So, with aging cabinet makers on their deathbed not so easily found in the yellow pages, if your mantel is to impress, then the option of solid wood might be the next best choice.

Because B.C. fir is readily available in practically any length or dimension of lumber, the fir specie is an excellent choice for a mantel. Besides the freedom to order a mantel in the desired girth, choosing B.C. fir also allows the homeowner to match the colour and grain pattern of their mantel to that of any other wood beams and pillars in the home, enabling the decorator to establish a real continuity of style and texture.

B.C. fir can be ordered with either a rough-sawn or dressed finish.

A rough-sawn look is the resulting finish of the original log being pushed through the band saw at the mill, and offers the customer a straight, but “furry” type of texture that includes splintering and saw blade marks. Rough-sawn finishes fit right into a rustic type of décor, or serve well to contrast in a contemporary setting.

Dressed refers to the fact the lumber has gone through a planer, and has been rendered smooth to the touch.

Other than made-to-measure and solid B.C. fir options, old lumber can serve as the perfect mantel. Beams from one of the seaway locks, old industrial pillars from the cotton mills, or the posts used in the 1870 last community hanging of bad boy Alfonse “le méchant” Papineau, all carry yesteryear’s charm, and make for great storytelling.

Otherwise, the fun thing about using old lumber is that you become the story teller, which is considered fair game in the home décor biz.

Concerns regarding old lumber? Look for any embedded nails or bolts before cutting. And, the paint on these older beams likely contains lead. So, sanding will require using extreme precautions.

Good building.

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

What’s the mantel?

Today we’re going to be deciding on how to build our mantel.

Essentially, a shelf becomes a mantel when it’s placed over a fireplace.

When a mantel is supported by two column-like moldings placed on either side of the fireplace, this three-piece unit adopts the more elegant designation of “mantel surround.”

In an effort to simplify things, avoid formality, or guide the style of one’s home towards that of open space contemporary, mantels, as opposed to mantel surrounds, are becoming the decorator’s choice for accessorizing the wall space occupied by a fireplace.

So, with your lonely mantel now expected to bear a large portion of the decorating weight, becoming one of the key components to this accent wall, ranking second only to the fireplace itself, your mantel will need to provide impact.

For this to happen, the mantel is going to require two elements: size and character.

Size can be achieved either by building the mantel to the desired dimensions, by special ordering a solid piece of lumber, or by revitalizing an old barn beam into service. Building a mantel is easy, or like they say, only requires money.

Basically, any mantel found on Houzz or in a decorator’s magazine, can most likely be duplicated by your local building supply dealer’s bath and kitchen cabinet division, or by a local carpenter familiar with this type of finishing artistry.

Custom-made mantels are beautiful, but they usually don’t have any extended value, and carry even less of a story. Unless of course the mantel was made by some aging artisan who recently passed away, which like a piece of art, could elevate the mantel’s value.

Or, ‘legendary story’ value could result if the cabinet maker should have suffered a gruesome beheading after he slipped while trimming the mantel with his radial arm saw. In such a case, the customer would certainly benefit from the added value of their mantel having a history, and a warm, gather-around-the-fireplace type of story to recount to the little tykes on Christmas Eve.

Otherwise, a custom mantel is a rather nondescript piece of work.

So, with aging cabinet makers on their deathbed not so easily found in the yellow pages, if your mantel is to impress, then the option of solid wood might be the next best choice.

Because B.C. fir is readily available in practically any length or dimension of lumber, the fir specie is an excellent choice for a mantel. Besides the freedom to order a mantel in the desired girth, choosing B.C. fir also allows the homeowner to match the colour and grain pattern of their mantel to that of any other wood beams and pillars in the home, enabling the decorator to establish a real continuity of style and texture.

B.C. fir can be ordered with either a rough-sawn or dressed finish.

A rough-sawn look is the resulting finish of the original log being pushed through the band saw at the mill, and offers the customer a straight, but “furry” type of texture that includes splintering and saw blade marks. Rough-sawn finishes fit right into a rustic type of décor, or serve well to contrast in a contemporary setting.

Dressed refers to the fact the lumber has gone through a planer, and has been rendered smooth to the touch.

Other than made-to-measure and solid B.C. fir options, old lumber can serve as the perfect mantel. Beams from one of the seaway locks, old industrial pillars from the cotton mills, or the posts used in the 1870 last community hanging of bad boy Alfonse “le méchant” Papineau, all carry yesteryear’s charm, and make for great storytelling.

Otherwise, the fun thing about using old lumber is that you become the story teller, which is considered fair game in the home décor biz.

Concerns regarding old lumber? Look for any embedded nails or bolts before cutting. And, the paint on these older beams likely contains lead. So, sanding will require using extreme precautions.

Good building.

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

Now onto how to burn

So, you’ve decided to start burning with wood.

Congratulations, the traditional atmosphere you’ll be providing for friends and family will rank second-to-none in warmth and comfort. However, this new role will require attention to detail and continued responsibility, starting with the ignition process.

Understanding the greatest potential for backdraft, a situation where chimney smoke is drawn back into the home, occurs at the start of a burn, let’s review a few good practices.

One, start the burn well before your guests arrive, and be sure your mind has not been altered by alcohol or a most recent purchase of legalized cannabis. Nothing kills a party like smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.

If a backdraft is going to happen, let it occur while the living room is void of guests. It would also save you the hassle of explaining why a jammed patio door handle required you to use Aunt Tilly as a battering ram, with her walker providing an effective means to shattering the plate glass window in order to secure a quick escape route from a smoke-filled room.

Furthermore, starting a fire will require following a precise sequence of procedures. So, let not your memory, decision-making, and reflexes be handicapped by your early partaking of the drink, or plate of special brownies.

First, open the damper to the chimney, as well as any air intake ducts feeding directly into the firebox. Next, crack open a nearby window. This will provide a little extra oxygen, which will help boost the flame and drive the initial draft. Plus, an open window is a quick fix to a home’s negative air pressure, which can happen when mechanical devices such as the kitchen’s range hood, or bathroom fans, are operating at full capacity, further challenging the chimney’s capacity to draw air upwards.

Cool air sinks. When it’s really cold outside, it sinks even quicker, which will be a challenge to the person starting the fire, since success in avoiding a backdraft lies entirely on creating upward air movement, or reversing the natural course of this chimney air.

So, with a ball of crushed newsprint, jailed inside a tee pee of small, dry pieces of kindling (spruce or pine lumber), ignite the paper. The key is to build flame, not smoke, in order to quickly create an upward draft. Success in getting the smoke to move upwards might be slow, which may be evidenced by your eyes swelling with tears and a sudden shortness of breath during those first 30 seconds.

Regardless, stay calm, work through the combustion spillage, and stick to the plan, the sensation should pass provided you continue coaxing the flame with more bits of wood and newsprint. If you’re two minutes into the ignition process and the fire alarm’s blasting away, the budgie’s now breast feathers up at the bottom of the birdcage, and the eye-swelling has rendered you blind, then abort the process and review the open damper/air intake/open window/shutting off of mechanical systems checklist.

What to burn? Only dry, seasoned (evidenced by cracks and splits in the log’s ends) hardwood. Don’t burn softwoods, painted or treated lumber, general garbage, wet logs, or those paper documents you’d rather the Canada Revenue Agency not see.

Dry hardwoods burn hot, delivering maximum heat and minimal residue, which is exactly what you want out of your wood fuel. Softwoods and used pallet lumber will burn of course, but the heat output will be mediocre at best. So, save this stuff for campfire purposes.

Furthermore, when fires don’t burn hot, creosote is the result, with this tar-like residue coating your chimney liner. Creosote isn’t a good thing because it can re-ignite in your chimney at any time.

Unfortunately, the first person to realize there’s a potential crisis is the neighbour, who upon noticing the flames shooting out of your chimney, is forced to either act, or dismiss the occurrence as you having modified your home into an oil refinery.

Burn safe, and good building.

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

Now, onto getting a clean burn

A wood burning stove in a traditional country cottage. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Sensing a firm squeeze on your shoulders, a loud, stern voice asks “Sir, can you hear me?!”

As you begin to regain your wits and return to consciousness, the blurred face of a burley first responder in dire need of a shave eventually comes into focus.

“Can you tell me your name sir?” the fellow with the four-day beard and large hat questions further.

“Yes” you respond, “my name’s Jack, what’s happened?”

As you turn your head to the side, the flashing lights of a big red vehicle cause you to squint, reacting with a head turn to the opposite side, where you’re semi-delirious state questions why someone has rolled up a rug and tossed it on the snowbank.

But it’s not a rug, and as your mind regains clarity, you realize it’s Aunt Tilly in her favorite floral dress being attended to by another first responder with somewhat less facial hair.

“Son of a gun,” you say to yourself, “did I forget to open that damned fireplace damper again?”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a real threat to those households not following a clean burn practice.

So, if you’re about to enter the terrific world of wood burning, let’s follow up on last week’s good burn strategies with what it takes to have consistent clean burns. Clean burning essentially means the only time you should be smelling smoke is if you’re outside the home.

Once in the comfort of your reclining chair, your woodstove or fireplace should be providing a heat that is basically odourless. So, if there’s a smoky scent in the air while you’re burning, don’t dismiss this odour as one of the sweet smells of the holiday season.

What you’ve got is a combustion spillage, which indicates residue gases and particulates are somehow evading the chimney, and making their way into your living room.

Included in these particulates will be carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odourless gas that can be deadly.

Steps to clean burning?

No.1, invest in a CSA-certified stove and stove pipe system, reviewing the chimney design and stove output with a qualified wood burning salesperson.

Next, have your wood burning unit and chimney installed by a certified WETT (wood energy technical transfer) contractor.

Things to consider?

Wood stoves operate most efficiently when they’re delivering close to maximum heat. So, invest in a unit that will heat the immediate area, and maybe a bit more. Avoid the large, 80,000 BTU unit simply because it’s the most impressive looking stove on the showroom floor, with the intention of operating it at half capacity because it would otherwise heat you out of your home.

Combustion spillage will occur at the start of a burn, as you attempt to create an upward draft, and end of a burn, as the air in the chimney cools and sinks down, allowing particulates to drop into the room’s atmosphere.

However, when a stove is operating at full capacity, there’s little chance of combustion spillage. So, for safe, clean heating, keep your fireplace or woodstove burning hot and steady.

Next, and for optimum efficiency, install what’s regarded as a warm chimney. A warm chimney simply means the chimney is kept inside the home, exiting through the roof at a high spot.

You notice exterior chimneys on older homes, where even the fireplace itself is housed in its own little enclosure, with the chimney running along the siding, upwards through the soffit.

When the chimney is kept inside the home, the air in the chimney remains warm, which means it’s continually rising, creating that all important draft, while eliminating the chances of combustion spillage by backdraft.

Which is best: a wood stove or a fireplace? If its heat you’re after, buy a woodstove. If it’s a more traditional stone wall, hang your Christmas stockings and roast your chestnuts by the open fire type of setting you’re looking for, then you’ll have to sacrifice a little efficiency by choosing a fireplace.

Next week, how to burn.

Good building.

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

Getting that good burn

The F2400 wood-burning stove at My Fireplace in London, Ont. on Friday December 16, 2016. DEREK RUTTAN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In the home wood burning biz, we refer to it as a ‘good burn.’

Achieving good burn status essentially requires two things:

One, the homeowner have a wood-fueled fire contained by either a woodstove or fireplace.

And two, the same number of people who enter the home on any festive evening, safely exit the premises without the aid of paramedics, firefighters, or representatives of the local morgue, barring of course any unscheduled exits due to inebriation or substance abuse deemed unrelated to the burn.

That’s basically it.

If you can create a fire in your home, thereby providing heat and an ambiance unequaled by any other fuel, without family members or guests dying or suffering the adverse effects of smoke inhalation, then you’ve succeeded as a wood burner.

Where to start?

If you’re new to the world of burning wood, then the suggested strategy regarding the acquisition of a wood-burning unit is as follows.

Tip No. 1: Yard sales and auctions are great sources for a variety of household items, none of which include wood stoves. So, avoid buying used, especially if the unit is older than you are.

Although wood stoves have no moving parts, the gaskets around the doors, fire bricks, and ceramic catalytic parts, all wear down and eventually fail over time. Plus, 300- to 400-pound woodstoves aren’t so easily carried about. So, the chances that such a unit was consistently handled in a delicate manner over the past 30 years is doubtful, which simply means the frame could have suffered a few line cracks.

In other words, the air tightness of this unit has most likely been compromised in a number of areas. When that happens, a portion of the gases released through combustion, such as carbon monoxide, will divert from going up the chimney and spill into the room. If the room happens to be an uninsulated and drafty hunting cabin, or fishing hut, where death by any means would likely be a welcome relief to the boredom and the freezing of one’s butt, then the collateral damage is limited.

If we’re talking about a room filled with innocent women and children, then this combustion spillage would be unacceptable.

We have an old coal stove in our home, a family heirloom that was used to make candy in the day, dating back to the early 1900’s. It sits in the corner of our kitchen, set in a working position with a non-operational stove pipe leading to a wall that possesses no chimney. During the Christmas season we’ll fill the copper cauldron that rests on the stove with decorative balls and lights. That’s how old wood stoves are to be honoured.

Either that or dishonorably discharged as scrap steel.

Regardless, don’t start an old stove up again. Besides being truly airtight, and likely far more efficient in keeping heat in the room, new wood stoves also carry with them updated information regarding the proper spacing between the unit and combustible walls, which is key to safe operation.

The same buy new recommendation extends to chimneys as well. I shudder when I encounter persons looking for parts relating to a series of insulated chimney lengths they found online, or at the side of the road during anything goes garbage night.

However, if again we’re talking about heating a shack that would serve the world better by burning to the ice, with any and all contents sinking to the river bed, then a mishmash system of chimney pipe may work in the short term.

On a new home, the interior stove pipe should be of the double-wall variety, with a two-inch insulated pipe used when piercing through a wall or ceiling, with this same insulated pipe continuing up into the outdoors.

Who should install your chimney and stove? Somebody who is WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) certified, thereby ensuring your heating unit is code compliant, and adheres to all safety rules and regulations.

Next week— lighting the fire. Safe burning.

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

He’s here to become a pain with his cracks

The beige, cylindrical object towards the left of the furnace is the humidifier with its controls. CANSTOCK PHOTO

Arriving under the cover of darkness, usually around the time of our first snowfall, this little fellow will slip into your home.

While visions of sugarplums dance in your head, he’ll open up his bag of goods in your living room and begin his night’s work. The only problem is, this little fellow ain’t Santa Claus, and he’s no jolly elf.

The fact is your unexpected guest is an ogre by the name of Charles W. Cracks, with the W standing for willfully. His eyes don’t twinkle, and his dimples are about as merry as roadway potholes.

His cheeks are like roses, and his nose is like a cherry, although not so much coloured by participating in a healthy outdoor life, but more related to his six-pack-a-day smoking habit, and topped up flask of rot-gut brandy in his breast pocket.

Upon opening his sack, there are no presents to be found, but instead a large assortment of pry bars and chisels.

Alas, the Ogre of Cracks is not here to deliver cheer, but instead will get to work on separating miter joints from between moldings, and creating the heartbreaking and ultimately most disappointing drywall crack of all time— that being the separation of where ceiling meet walls. The thing about miter joints separating and cracks developing along your ceiling line, is that they’re the product of humidity, the physics of cold meeting hot, along with various atmospheric conditions.

Which, sorry to say, makes the homeowner’s ability to control these eyesores about as likely as hiding behind the big sofa into the wee hours of the night, and successfully catching the Crack Ogre as he descends the chimney.

Now, however bleak the reality of being able to prevent cracks, there are ways of lessening the extent of your casing and baseboards separating.

Crack preventing remedy No.1: control the humidity levels in the home by investing in a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit.

In the olden days, we had to rely on signals such as a dry throat and nosebleeds to let us know the air in the home was a little dry, or frost on the windows to remind us that it’s time to ease up on the pasta making. Which, would have us either opening windows or setting pots of water about the home to counteract dry or wet atmospheric conditions.

So, you can stick with that rather unscientific strategy, or invest in the mechanics of a HRV. Not only will your HRV regulate indoor humidity levels, which will vary throughout the year due to changing outdoor temperatures, but the HRV will also circulate and clean your household air 24/7.

Further to a HRV is a humidifier, which like the HRV, will work in conjunction with your furnace to efficiently distribute quality air into every room of the home.

Crack remedy No.2: fill the miter gaps with a paintable/flexible quality caulking. When cracks develop where the walls meet the ceiling, you’ve got a situation referred to as truss lift.

The good news about truss lift is that it’s a non-structural situation, so it’s not really affecting the home in any type of supportive, or building, manner— other than being simply unattractive. The bad news about truss lift is that once your home develops it, it tends to come back every winter.

Truss lift occurs when the trusses pry themselves off the partition walls in a home. Why trusses move in this way can be attributed to moisture conditions in the attic, whereby some trusses fall victim to condensation, and swell up in the cold, while the trusses buried in the insulation stay dry, and shrink slightly in the cold. Where shrink meets swell you get movement.

Solution? None that aren’t excessively intrusive or costly.

Remedy? Install a crown molding, or large cove molding to the ceiling only (not the wall), along the perimeter of the room. This way, when the ceiling lifts, the decorative molding moves with it, and nothing cracks.

Good building.

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

Thar she blows

Postmedia Network Blowing insulation into an attic is fairly easy, especially if you follow the advice of our handyman.

Today we’re going to be adding insulation to an existing attic.

The home in question was built in the mid 1970’s, and presently has about six inches of fiberglass insulation on the attic floor, providing about R-20 of thermal value. With today’s attic insulation standards set at R-60, the homeowner will need to add about 14 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Why add insulation to an attic that’s already insulated? Because this attic is insulated to 1970’s standards. In the 70’s, energy and electrical costs were relatively low, the economy was strong, and the Montreal Canadiens were winning Stanley Cups. So, it was no big deal having to put on a sweater before curling up under the covers, because hey, the Habs were winning hockey games. Today, the Canadiens wouldn’t recognize the Stanley Cup if it walked up and bit them on the butt, so there’s no celebratory mood to help warm your cockles.  Furthermore, home heating costs are atrocious, while Justin Trudeau’s focus is on getting fitted for his dragon embroidered Changsha (traditional ceremonial robe) in preparation for his trip to China, because that’s what Chinese men wear every day, apparently, with the deficit issue far down his list of concerns.

So, we’re left to fend for ourselves, which means reducing our heating bills by bumping up our insulation levels. Why choose a blowing wool, as opposed to fiberglass batting, to insulate an attic? Because the blowing wool strategy provides the homeowner with longer arms, allowing them to distribute the insulation matter from a series of vantage points, thereby eliminating the risk of having to gingerly step across the truss joists. The suggestion to use the Atticat strategy is based on the element of P&P, prudence and probability. The safety relevance of the P&P is based on what’s referred to as ‘balance beam heartbreak’, which simply refers to the fact 40 per cent of gymnastic injuries are balance beam related. Considering this beam measures four inches wide, and is stepped upon by trained athletes, what are the chances of the average do-it-yourselfer making it safely across a series of truss joists that are only 1-1/2 inches in diameter? Unfortunately, official documentation regarding this action is limited. However, ‘prudence’ tells us the average non-gymnast homeowner should be avoiding the strategy of straddling joists as they place batts individually over the attic floor, because ‘probability’ tells us the resulting fall will drive one’s scrotum up into their body cavity.
So, with this vision in mind, cut yourself a couple of 16”x48” sheets of 5/8” plywood, or pick up a couple of 2×10 pieces of lumber, and toss them up into the attic beforehand. These will provide a safe walkway as you slowly manœuvre over the floor joists.

Step one to this project, ensure the attic space will be adequately vented. For this job, you’ll need to staple vent baffles, aka rafter mates, in between each truss. The vent baffles prevent the insulation and blowing wool from blocking air from entering the attic through the soffit. Then, make sure there’s adequate roof venting to create this necessary draft of fresh, outdoor air. The roof venting requirement can be satisfied by having an accredited roofer install a Maxivent type of product near the peak of the roof.  Next, create an extended attic hatch tunnel by stacking 2×8 lumber edgewise along the perimeter of the hatch. This extended tunnel will prevent the blowing wool from falling through the attic hatch door. Since we’ll be requiring about 14 inches of Atticat blowing wool, use a tape measure to mark the 14 inch necessary depth along the truss webbing, or staple a series of Atticat paper rulers to the joists at 10 ft. intervals. In order to add R-40 of thermal value to this attic space, the amount of Atticat required will be based on the calculation that one bag of Atticat blowing wool will provide 49 sq. ft. of coverage. Be sure to watch the Atticat install video, and follow all instructions.

Good building.

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

Ice belongs in your freezer, not as icicles dripping from your roof

QMI AGENCY FILE

Today we continue with case No. 913, involving Alison Shiver, and her husband M.E. Timbers.

To recapitulate, the ‘Shiver me Timbers’ people are dealing with the fact their roof is producing more ice, in the form of icicles, than the 10 commercial freezers working 24 hours a day at their ice cube company.

The problem? A home attic space that’s too warm, due somewhat in part to heat infiltrating into the attic space, and largely in part to an under-insulated attic floor.

Step one to remedying the infiltration issue involves sealing the gaps found where the electrical outlet’s octagon boxes, and venting ductwork, penetrate the ceiling’s drywall. Products that would serve well in filling these gaps would include an ‘acoustic seal’ caulking, or ‘Gaps n’ Cracks’ spray foam.

Next, we need to ensure any exhaust ductwork traveling through the attic space is not emitting heat. Often, bathroom fan ductwork is fed through the attic, then exhausted out the soffit, or worse, left lying on the attic floor, feeding warm air into what’s supposed to be a cold environment.

One, ductwork travelling through a cold space, such as your attic, needs to be insulated. This can be accomplished by either by wrapping what’s existing with fiberglass insulation and a six-millimeter plastic, or replacing the ductwork with the insulated version of whatever flexible pipe is needed.

Next, we make sure this duct vents out a gable wall, or better yet, out the roof. Because the soffit acts as intake ventilation, the feeding of warm, moisture-filled air created by showers and baths into this area is counterproductive.

Maxi-vents located at the peak of the roof work in conjunction with the soffit vents to create a draft.

Essentially, feeding your bathroom exhaust into the soffit will only have it re-entering the attic space. Venting out a gable wall, or the roof, ensures this humidity gets lost in the atmosphere.

Next, remove those dated pot lights and replace them with the significantly more efficient, non-heat producing, LED-recessed lighting. Pot lights are notorious for their inefficiency, the fact they create heat, and their habit of allowing warm air to infiltrate the attic space.

So, make the change to LED. Fitting tight to the ceiling, and being a fraction of the thickness of a pot light, the newer LED fixtures don’t protrude into the attic space, and therefore will require no special protective cover over top, making them an easy, value-added renovation decision.

Then, we insulate. Because heat rises, and cool air sinks, there’s a big benefit to adding insulation to the floor of your attic. Basically, insulation slows down the transfer of heat, or the transfer of cold, from one space to another.

The more insulation or R-factor that you have in your attic, the longer your living space below will stay warm, which will result in lower fuel costs.

The new home standard for attic insulation is R-60. In order to achieve this level of thermal value, a homeowner would need to cover their attic floor with about 18 inches of fiberglass pink insulation, or about 22 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Most homes have at least six-to-eight inches, or about R-20 of insulating value in their attics already.

So, you’re basically needing to top things off to our 2018 standards.

Fiberglass pink comes in batt form, whereby a standard attic “batt” is 24 inches wide, by 48 inches long, by the desired thickness. Choosing the batt strategy will require the homeowner (or hired hand) placing each piece individually across the attic floor. If this is to be your preferred method, choose the R-20, six-inch thick fiberglass pink batt. This thickness of batt handles easy, and gets you to your R-60 goal quite effectively by using a crisscross pattern of laying the second series of batts over the first.

In Alison and Mike’s case, we’re going to be choosing the Atticat blowing wool. Next week, we find out why.

Good building.

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

Warming your timbers

Case no. 913 has us examining the home owned by one Alison Shiver, along with her husband, M.E. (Michael Eliot) Timbers.

Together, they own and operate ‘Shiver Me Timbers’, taking advantage of this match made in heaven to become the new owners of the local ice cube and ice block company, formally owned by retired seaman L. J. Silver. With over one million cubes of ice being manufactured daily, the Shiver Me Timbers people know how to make and bag ice. Incredibly though, the Shiver Me Timbers company still ranks second in ice production to an element that’s thankfully not a retail competitor of theirs. Who might this element be? Oddly enough, it’s the roof right over their heads.

Alison and Michael’s roof produces icicles, which unfortunately due to the rather stringent laws regarding the use of petroleum oils and granular roof matter in foodstuffs, prevents these icicles from being bagged and sold as a natural after school treat. So, with no profit to be made by harvesting these icy daggers, or added benefit of introducing “Icy Roof Treats” to the company’s line of products, it’s time to eliminate this obvious display of home inefficiency.

Regardless of how charming icicles look in a Hallmark Christmas card, they’re a sign of heat loss. Heat loss in a home is going to happen. We lose heat through our windows, our mechanical exhaust vents, and every time somebody opens a door. Those heat losses are inevitable, not so controllable, and other than having a bunch of poorly operating windows, are no real cause for immediate concern.

However, a warm attic in the thick of winter is not a good thing. Essentially, your attic is going to end up catching a cold. Heat being produced in the home naturally rises up. If this heat, and accompanying moisture, is allowed to infiltrate the attic, it’ll continue up towards the plywood or roof plank underlay. When the plywood warms up, heat gets transferred to the shingles overtop, which melts the snow. This snow melt then races down the roof until it reaches the overhang, the only part of the roof that’s cold because it has no heat source underneath. When the snow melt crosses the overhang, it begins to cool, then freeze, just as it’s attempting its leap off the roof, forming the not so cherished icicle.

Unfortunately, hanging shards of ice will be the least of your worries. If the snow melt fails to make its way to the edge of the roof, it’ll join the ranks of the other icicle wannabes, and become a member of an even more notorious group, known simply as the ice dam bad boys. When heat is allowed to rise into the attic, condensation often forms on the plywood. Now you’ve got a couple of water sources in your attic, one as a result of an ice dam forcing snow melt back up and under the shingles, along with moisture dripping down from the plywood underlay.

Two bad things about these scenarios. One, wet plywood eventually rots. And two, the condensation drippings will fall into whatever insulation you have in the attic, lessening its thermal value, forming mold, and eventually making its way to the ceiling’s drywall. So, how do we keep our attics nice and cold in the winter? By sealing any breach in the ceiling’s drywall, removing any heat sources, and most of all, by insulating.

Start by removing the decorative collar around any hanging light fixtures and ceiling exhaust vents. Sometimes, the drywall cut around the electrical box, or ductwork, isn’t so perfect, which will allow moist air to draft up into the attic. So, seal this gap (if it’s a 1/4 inch or less) with an ‘acoustic-seal’ caulking. Larger gaps can be filled with a ‘Gaps n’ Cracks’ spray foam. Next, make sure any ductwork or venting pipes running through the attic are insulated, and, that they’re not exhausting directly into your attic space.

Next week, we’re insulating our attic. Good building.

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

Here are some more wish list tips

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As you contemplate your next renovation or upcoming new home build over the winter months, let’s review some of the various home “wish list” features you should be discussing with your architect or home builder while this whole process is still in the drawing stage.

Having to scrap a few blueprint drawings will only draw the ire of your contractor, or minimally throw them into a pout.

Conversely, waiting to make a change or voicing your opinion only after the concrete in the foundation has dried will certainly have your builder self-medicating.

So, if there are changes to be made in your future home or addition, be sure to speak up before the heavy equipment arrives. Plus, avoid the, “all I want out of this new home is a kitchen with an island, and a soaker type tub in the master bathroom, and nothing else matters,” type of thinking.

Submerging yourself in a bubble bath is indeed pleasurable, while kitchens with islands are great— although in my experience during general gatherings, they tend to attract storytellers so full of the drink you will indeed feel like you’re trapped on some secluded isle.

If you’re splitting the reno between rooms, be sure to divide your energy and attention over the entire project. If not, you may get the kitchen you want, but you risk bumping your head on the furnace ductwork in the basement for the next 20 years because you failed to follow up on the mechanical portion of the project.

Last week we talked about the added value of a walk-out basement, second-story balcony, and what the natural light bonus of a few skylights can provide to a new home. Today, we’ll be adding to our wish list of home features, which essentially means getting things right the first time, starting with the aforementioned full-ceiling height basement.

Built in the 1970s, the construction of our present home unfortunately corresponded with the making of the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, whereby our furnace ductwork was evidently installed by a team of Oompa Loompas on furlough.

Mechanically we’re good. Everything works. The only issue is with some of the ductwork and heating vents strategically installed slightly below the six-foot level at various intervals, only my wife and our cats can safely navigate the basement. As a result, our basement area serves the home well enough as a storage space, but due to a lack of foresight on behalf of the original builder, the chance of this relatively large area providing comfortable living space has basically been forfeited.

So, be sure to discuss the basement’s ceiling height with your contractor. Basically, the supporting beams, joists, and everything mechanical (furnace ductwork, electrical, and plumbing) should be at least 8’6” to nine feet off your finished concrete floor. This way, a drop ceiling and any future lighting or electrical work can be comfortably installed below the existing floor joists and beams.

You may never finish your basement, but maybe the next homebuyer will, making a full-height basement ceiling nothing but engineering dollars well spent.

Next item on the wish list, keeping your washer and dryer on the same level as your bedrooms— or your best bet, one-level living. Basically, we’re trying to eliminate having to climb stairs, especially while having to carry a hamper full of clothes, or even a vacuum.

This step-saving, more efficient type of living not only will make things easier for young people, with young families, but will of course serve you better in your senior years.

Next, and staying on the home efficiency theme, eliminate a few walls, especially those between kitchen and dining room, or kitchen and living room.

Segregating people at gatherings involving friends and family is passé. Have your living space as open and free flowing as possible. This will allow the home to handle the crowds better, with the rooms being better and more evenly used as a result.

Good building.

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