Always plan for your escape

Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Vinylbuilt Window Co., provided this photo of a hopper style egress-compliant basement window. Handout Not For Resale SUPPLIED

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get yourself out of a situation in as expedient a manner as possible.

Say you’re a teen in a home where the house rules clearly oppose the sleeping over of friends in your finished basement, with said rules especially targeting the opposite sex due to the yearnings of young love not being truly appreciated by the parental hierarchy. Then a call for breakfast wakes you both up from a deep slumber; your little friend requires a quick exit.

Or, you’re the man of the house – with this designation being purely due to age, whereby the only thing you’re commanding is the home’s largest shoe size – and while in your third hour of watching professional football from the comfort of your designated man cave, a yell from the main floor above disturbs your solitude, wondering why you have yet to mow the lawn? You’re going to need an exit plan.

Or, God forbid, a real emergency occurs, with flames and smoke having engulfed the main floor. Those people in the basement are going to need a quick and safe manner of exiting the home.

Because bad things sometimes happen, today were going to be looking at how to make our basement living space egress compliant, or what is basically defined as being exit-friendly.

For those persons looking to buy a home, be sure to question the sales pitch that a potential homestead has seemingly added value due to its finished basement, or is a great buy because of an extra bedroom that exists in this basement area.

Without an egress compliant window, a finished basement is of limited value, due to the new owners having to foot the expense of bringing the area into compliance with the building code. So, be leery of spending an extra $15,000 on a home, due to its finished basement, when it’s going to cost you perhaps half that much to cut out and install a compliant window, while most likely needing outdoor landscaping modifications as well.

There are a few rules that must be followed in order for a window to be egress compliant.

First, the basement window must offer an exit space of at least 3.8 square feet, with 15 inches being the minimum opening dimension for either height or width. Unless you’re a member of this most recent Nutcracker dance troupe, the pull of a tape measure across your chest will quickly reveal that 15 inches doesn’t leave most of us with much wiggle room.

So, be sure to avoid the casement, slider, and certainly a regular awning type of window. Instead, look to choose what’s referred to as a ‘hopper’ window. The hopper is a kind of reverse awning, where the window pane is hinged at the top, like an awning, but instead swings inward, with the pane of glass swinging up, then locking in an open position for easy exiting.

The hopper window’s value is that it takes full advantage of the entire space provided by the concrete window opening. Plus, the hopper window satisfies the requirement an egress window be easy and uncomplicated to open.

Next, make sure there’s sufficient space to exit on the outside. Older homes are notorious for basement windows that are buried halfway deep into the soil, requiring a window well, or what’s essentially a steel corrugated casing that forms around the window.

Some windows wells are 12 inches deep, which means the only living creature escaping the fire that day will be the cat. Otherwise, window wells need to be at least 22 inches deep.

If possible, build your well deeper. This minimum spacing might prove challenging to those not enrolled in daily yoga classes.

Next, your egress hopper won’t save anyone if it’s placed too high off the floor, which of course can be an issue in basements. So, consider placing a cabinet, decorative type ladder, or some type of easily climbable unit underneath the window.

Good building.

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

How to create and sustain basement life

Last week, we discussed the importance of ensuring your basement space is capable of remaining dry, essentially step one in the creation of a new living area.

Basically, your concrete walls will need to be impermeable to water and moisture entry, or minimally have some type of system in place to deal with water penetration should your foundation be susceptible to such occurrences. Without a dry environment, your basement is best to remain as storage space, and an area to hone one’s slap shot.

With step one secured, let’s move on to step two, making this space livable.

Besides some of the obvious necessities of life (oxygen, nutrition, beer fridge, and the such), living in a basement will be a whole lot more pleasant with two key features— them being headroom, and natural light.

Headroom is especially important, and can present quite the challenge if the original builder had no foresight of this area accommodating life for anybody other than those under the age of eight, or cats. With furnace ductwork and plumbing pipes travelling under the joist system, and/or support beams being spaced at 12- to 14-foot intervals, trying to locate a pool table, or even a safe walking area for those with the option of careers in basketball, can be a problem.

If budgetary constraints are nonexistent, then the answer to mechanical height issues can be simple, either dig the basement down two feet deeper, or raise the home two feet. However, this could cost you in the neighborhood of $100,000, which might be a little much if you’re simply looking for a spot to accommodate your stairmaster and a few dumbbells.

So, let’s look at re-routing the ductwork and plumbing. Our goal will be to remove it completely from the common living area, or minimally push these mechanical systems out towards the walls, creating ample headroom in the middle of the room.

These changes will require the insight of a professional heating/cooling specialist, and a plumber. Air can be pushed up, down, and around, so the re-routing of ductwork is usually possible. Poop and water, on the other hand, rely on gravity, and have to flow downward, at a specific slope, which might make the re-routing of your plumbing pipes a little more challenging.

Regardless, show the mechanical professionals where you’d like your living space to be, and have them work on a strategy.

Next, basements always seem a little less like basements when you have natural light. Plus, if people are going to be hanging out in your basement, or if you have teenagers in the home, who might be having friends over, maybe staying up past your 9:30 p.m. bedtime, and maybe sleeping over, then for all these reasons, and certainly if there’s a planned bedroom in the basement, you’re going to want a basement space that’s egress compliant.

Egress means ‘exit’, which in the case of a finished basement, is explained in the building code as an easy means of exiting a space in the case of emergency.

Most stairways leading up to the homes main floor inevitably direct you towards the kitchen, which unfortunately is the place where most home fires start. After first being awakened by a smoke alarm, then a whole lot of shouting, and while in a state of panic, the basement dweller’s first thoughts of survival should not involve covering themselves with a blanket, climbing up the stairs, making their way through smoke and fire, basically following a route to which only a trained firefighter could survive, until they reach the front door.

What they should be doing is racing towards the egress window, located only seconds away, flipping it up, and safely exiting the home.

Because older homes often have the sliding type of basement window, and are buried in window wells on the exterior that further impede the escape process, the minimum spacing for safe exiting is often not met.

Next week, creating a safe basement environment with proper egress windows.

Good building.

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

Step No. 1 to finish your basement

At some point in the life of homeowners the idea of turning an existing basement, which up to this point has served the home as little more than a giant closet for junk and seasonal apparel, into real living space, will cross the kitchen table.

Strategically, the finishing of a basement makes sense. You’re heating and cooling 1,200 square feet of area that’s presently housing maybe three key elements to the home: them being the furnace, freezer, and beer fridge, and not necessarily in that order.

Which leaves about 1,100 square feet dedicated to mostly junk, so we’re talking a pretty lousy return on your home investment.

As a result, it would make sense to turn such an existing storage space, or a portion thereof, into something of real living value, like an exercise area, big-screen TV room, an extra bedroom or two, or simply a play area for the kiddies.

However, and logistically, there may be challenges.

So, before ordering your Peloton exercise bike and investing in series five of the buns of steel fitness videos, let’s make sure your basement is ready to be finished.

First, has water ever infiltrated your basement in the form of moisture spots or pools of water on the floor, or even minor flooding? If the answer to this question is either sometimes, only in the spring or fall, or simply well, it’s happened once, then officially list this project as a non-starter.

Those persons finishing their basements must understand of all the frustrations you’re bound to face regarding the finishing of this basement, be it mechanical systems, the permit process, arguments regarding the location of your free-standing popcorn machine, and discussions as to whether or not your chaise-lounger should include the hot dog-warming option; none of these stresses will compare to the heartbreak of water infiltration, or worse, a flooding.

Until you do what it takes to ensure the status of your basement is officially regarded as bone dry, moving forward with this project would be extremely risky. Therefore, check the concrete basement walls for cracks, and any areas of previous water infiltration.

Do-it-yourself, crack-injection kits are available to solve minor fissure issues, while moisture-sealing paints, such as Zinser’s Watertight product, do well to solve concrete walls that feel moist, or that tend to condensate during certain periods of the year. Try these first-aid type products first, then wait a few weeks to gauge their success.

If you achieve dry, congratulations, you might be ready to move on.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything more serious than this going on, such as a very obvious wall crack, water infiltration at the point where the wall meets your concrete floor, or sump pump issues, then the hiring of an experienced professional will need to be your next call.

After having succeeded in creating a dry basement, the next step will involve strategizing the use of space. Invite a favourite contractor or home designer over to help you with this challenge. And, it will be a challenge.

Essentially, you’ll be attempting to compartmentalize your basement into four sections: them being living space, mechanical/furnace room, workshop area, and storage.

Getting rid of some of the junk, moving boxes and shelving out of the way, and a general clean-up, all in an effort to create floor space, will be helpful start to this evaluation. However, the real issues often lie in what’s above.

Some homes have the luxury of what’s referred to as an open-web joist design, which allows the plumbing, electrical, and furnace ductwork to travel basically unimpeded throughout the basement, while not affecting the headroom— now that’s smart building. Or, you can have a home similar to ours, where the original owner had all the foresight of a fruit fly, having all the mechanical and plumbing fixtures fly under the 2×10 joists, providing a basement space where I have to duck every 10 steps in order to avoid concussion.

Next week, basement planning.

Good building.

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

Getting ready to play with fire

A backyard fire pit burns in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. FILE PHOTO

Today we investigate the possibility of operating an open backyard fire pit.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why put all this thought into what’s essentially going to be a campfire in the backyard for the kiddies to enjoy roasting marshmallows, and a hub where the adults can dismiss their supervisory roles while solving life’s issues over a few light ales?

Because, just like we need signs that say, “Speed Limit 100 km/h,” “Don’t Walk on the Grass,” or “Don’t reach into cage to touch gorillas,” relying on the element of common sense when it comes to human behaviour has proven to be unsuccessful.

So, like everything else, including the operation of a backyard fire pit, you’re going to have to get a permit, and follow the rules.

What’s the consequence to not wanting to follow what is basically a pretty lenient set of restrictions? Well— nobody’s going to tear your arm out of its socket and hand it back to you after gnawing on the forearm proves distasteful, but the monetary fine will certainly put a damper on your evening. Plus, restrictions and regulations may vary from city to county.

So, be sure to check with your local fire department regarding the safe operation of an open fire pit, and its bylaws.

The first step to backyard burning, other than operating a simple gas or charcoal barbecue, is to contact your local fire services office, and to request an open air burn permit application. The permit (for Cornwall and area) is going to cost you $100, which will be valid for three years. So, a pretty cheap application fee considering the fine for hosting an illegal burn is about $200 per infraction.

Essentially, the permit application is going to insist on a few conditions.

First, your fire pit will have to be located somewhere on your property that’s at least 20 feet from the property line, and any combustible structure. Trees and bushes, although obviously combustible, that encroach the 20-foot barrier, won’t necessarily sink this project. Unless of course, and upon inspection, the fire inspector deems you’re locating of the fire pit under an overhanging tree limb, is a site choice that needs reconsideration.

However, if you can’t strategize a fire pit location that keeps your flame at least 20 feet from your neighbour, or 20 feet from your home, or the extension you added to the deck, then you might as well shelve this initiative.

Next condition, your fire pit cannot be something that by definition, or sight, is homemade. So, the collecting or rocks to form a circle, a longtime tradition that created many a fond memory of outdoor camp adventures, which unfortunately and conversely led to even more forest fires, is not permitted.

Nor is the always classy, oil drum cut in half, which within a year usually rusts out at the bottom, then topples over, spilling hot embers onto the shoes of those unsuspecting marshmallow roasters not prepared for a quick retreat.

As a result, getting permit approval will require you procuring an official steel fire bowl, or approved stone type of outdoor fire pit or cooking grill.

Once you’ve solved the location issue and chosen an approved fire-pit unit, it’s pretty well clear sailing from this point.

Other conditions to burning will include having a readily available means to extinguish the fire in case of emergency. A simple garden hose will qualify as an extinguisher, providing that when Uncle Fred’s pant leg becomes engulfed in flames, and people are panicking, engaging the hose doesn’t mean having to first search for it in the darkness of the back shed.

Finally, part of the fire pit requirement is to notify your neighbours of your intention to openly burn, which can be a delicate subject to broach if existing relationships aren’t so great. So, be sure to get along with your neighbours, don’t ever blow smoke their way, and as a foolproof method to keeping the peace, invite them over for the first burning.

Good building.

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

What’s $25 worth? An intact delivery

We understand delivery vehicles with proper suspension systems, harnesses for effectively securing building supplies, and various other safety features relating to the proper transport of heavy materials, do exist.

And, that the person power, to effectively and safely deliver these products to your home, then in some cases, carry these often heavy or large items up or down a set of stairs, also exists. Then why do people pick up their own stuff?

Maybe it’s timing (I need it now), or quality control (I want to choose my own lumber), or justification (I told my wife we needed a new pick-up truck, including the leather, massaging seat option). Or, it could simply be to save a $25 shipping cost.

Regardless of why persons decide to pick up their own goods, as opposed to paying for qualified personnel – because it’s not as if people hire a plumber every time they change a faucet, or hire an electrician to remove a light fixture – it might be a good thing to review the basic dos and don’ts of picking up building supplies and delivering them to your home, yourself.

First, how’s your general health? And, how’s your lower back?

Picking up lumber one piece at a time from a pile that’s been stacked by others isn’t quite like having loaded and stacked the goods yourself. Pulling a back muscle, or straining your shoulder, will have your project coming to a complete halt. Then there’s the call into work Monday morning, advising the HR department your aunt Flora has died, again, and that you’ll need a few days off.

Second, do you have the appropriate vehicle?

Just the other day a fellow was witnessed supporting one end of a box of vinyl siding, while the other end of the box rested in the trunk of the car, with this fellow’s buddy driving the car ever so slowly down the road.

Vinyl siding comes in a relatively ridged cardboard box that measures 12 feet long. So, with five feet of the box secured in the trunk, and the remaining seven-foot overhang seemingly up to the task, the boys were on their way. After a few bumps in the road, relatively ridged cardboard will unfortunately inherit all the integrity of cooked spaghetti. So, with seven feet of not-so-ridged cardboard now dragging on the pavement, the boys adapted to the situation, effectively turning an automobile into a gas-powered wheelbarrow. How this delayed mid-afternoon traffic, or whether this procedure would have been frowned upon by the Ministry of Transportation is unknown.

Realizing that building supply personnel are only available for suggestion, and prefer not to critique the logic or transportation strategy regarding the safe handling of goods, do-it-yourself transporters should look to follow a checklist of requirements.

One, items sticking out past your bumper or tailgate by more than six feet will require a red flag. Regardless, you will have put yourself in quite the pickle should someone rear-end you, with this little red flag meaning little if the lumber was deemed loaded in a questionable manner. So, if your vehicle cannot properly contain the load with six or less feet of overhang, have it shipped by your building supply dealer, or borrow a bigger truck.

Next, use ratchet-style straps or good ol’ fashion rope to secure your load, while avoiding bungee straps. Bungee straps are for holding down trunk lids, or for securing a tarp over a pile of wood, but due to their stretchiness, should never be used to secure a load. And, if you’ve ever been whipped in the face by the little hook on the end, you’ll know never to overstretch them.

Finally, OSB plywood (aka Aspenite) is about as stable as a deck of cards left out on a windy day, with many a load dumped at the intersection once the light turns green.

So, be sure to secure your supplies from any forward, backward, or lateral movement.

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

Good fence vs. bad ones

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, is not only the title of probably the greatest western movie ever made, but also describes the three types of wood fencing a homeowner has the choice of building.

With the market already saturated with a combination of bad and ugly fences, it’s my recommendation we look to differentiate ourselves by building a good, or even what would be considered a great, wooden fence.

Now, to be fair with the bad and ugly fence builders, their fences didn’t necessarily start out that way. As a matter of fact, bad and ugly fences could have very well been quite attractive in their early years, and simply declined into their present state of battered, grey crookedness over time.

So, our goal will be to build a fence that will look good, and keep looking good at least until the middle of the century, or until which time a Canadian-based team wins the Stanley Cup, whichever comes first.

As mentioned last week, fences fall under the building code, and therefore require permits. Not only are permits key to making sure you follow the basic rules pertaining to fence height and acceptable product mix, but the permit process will initiate the “locate” process. Locates are those little yellow flags you occasionally see darting across persons lawns, and are placed there by the cable, electric, and gas-line people, indicating where these service lines run across your property.

Essentially, there are two reasons why the service people don’t want you hitting, or cutting off their lines in your attempt to dig a post hole.

One, if you happen to break a line, you’ve automatically ruined their mood by adding another three hours of emergency service time into what is already a fully scheduled workday. And two, sometimes the coroner isn’t always immediately available, which in the case of a severing a gas or electrical cable, could have the service guy having to re-connect a line while your corpse lies rotting in the sun only metres away, which can totally ruin a fellow’s appetite come lunch hour.

For a wood fence to be great, all four components, them being the post holes, fence posts, fence panels, and fence maintenance program, all have to follow a program of procedural excellence.

Starting with the posts holes, drill them anywhere from 48 to 54 inches in depth. Any shallower and you risk the frost heaving the posts up every winter, which will disrupt the entire fence line, and look lousy.

Does frost heave, a scenario whereby the frozen soil pushes things up to the surface, really occur? Just ask any local farmer who has to pick rocks out of his fields every year.

As for fence posts? 4×4 lumber is good, but 6×6 timbers are much better. So, if there’s wiggle room in the budget for the extra costs of using 6×6 posts, go for it. Besides simply looking better, 6×6 timbers are significantly more solid (great for high-wind areas), and stay straighter over the long haul.

Fence panels? Avoid the standard and very much overused board-on-board, or what’s referred to as the “good neighbour” style of fence panel, for basically two reasons.

One, because the fence boards are installed in an offset manner on either side of what’s normally a couple of 2x4s running vertically from post to post, the element of privacy isn’t so private. In other words, when standing on an angle, you or your neighbour can easily see into each other’s property. So, if you’re looking forward to seeing what latest fashion in swimwear your neighbour will be sporting this year, then choose what’s essentially a good viewing of the neighbour fence design.

Two, the good neighbour fence design is an atrocity to paint or stain, which will inevitably make continued maintenance a virtual impossibility.

Therefore, with privacy and easy maintenance being two important elements to our fence’s long term viability, next week we’ll look into building a “friendly neighbour” design.

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

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