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

The nose knows when to bail on this cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Insp. Clouseau looks for clues at the cottage

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Today we’ll be following home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, due to Jack’s genealogical connection with his French cousins, and a preference of wearing a white fedora and trench coat while performing his home inspections.

The inspector will be passing his magnifying glass over a potential cottage for purchase by a Mr. Bill ‘Crusher’ Granite, the subject of last week’s column.

Now to be clear, the use of the term cottage in this case is purely subjective. What’s for purchase here is a standard 1,600-square-foot home with nearly a full-height basement, and not an 800-square-foot hunting lodge raised up on cement blocks. There’s no way we’ll be closing this baby up for the winter.

In order for this cottage to remain healthy, general maintenance, a few upgrades, and providing heat for this home year round, regardless of occupancy, will be absolutely necessary.

Our Clouseau was also suspicious of the sales person’s repeated mention the sellers of this cottage are a physics professor and his wife who are looking to retire to the city. Very good, the home has been lived in by someone capable of splitting an atom.

Unfortunately, this same fellow was befuddled by the soggy state of his loafers as he walked the perimeter of his home, and failed to recognize the fact the home’s landscape was working in a negative manner, directing water towards the foundation.

So, be leery of trusting all is good simply because a home has been lived in by persons of means or intelligence. It should be viewed as little solace or guarantee your future dwelling has been well cared for, or built to code.

The home had several little decks that permitted seating on the east, west, and north sides of the home, allowing the homeowners to view the water and strategically follow the sun, or the shade, throughout the day.

A lovely idea, except for the fact each deck was in its own stage of decay. This was due largely in part to the puddles of water and moisture-filled soil that lay beneath these decks, and the fact all three decks had been framed perilously close to the ground.

Further to the deck issue was a relatively significant crack in the corner of the foundation wall that supported the garage. Our Clouseau suspects rainwater and snow melt had been allowed to pool in this area, with this moisture infiltrating the concrete, then expanding during the freezing periods.

We haven’t even entered the cottage yet and we’re facing a foundation repair, dismantling the existing decks (which thankfully are of treated lumber, as opposed to composite, and represent no great loss), a total re-do of the landscaping (which may or may not include replacing the weeping tile, if it ever existed), then re-building the decks once again.

Properly grading the landscape is going to be a challenge because there’s little to no foundation left to work with. It’s as if the house had sunk into a hole. Built on bedrock, this cottage has never sunk, but its foundation was probably two or three rows of concrete blocks too short, a strange error considering the age of the home and the general guidelines of building.

Next, we visited the basement, which was for some reason only accessible from the outside. Our Clouseau was at a loss as to why the professor forfeited a standard stairwell to the basement, in exchange for added closet space.

His thought was that should an explosion occur in the basement as a result of the professor experimenting with a new rocket fuel, the main living area would have been shielded, with the ensuing damage limited to the basement’s block walls blowing out. With the basement walls gone, the home would have simply crashed down upon the rubble, which would have unfortunately included the professor, but on a positive note, saved on the cost of internment.

Next week, the inspection continues.

Good building.

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

This ain’t no cottage

The Cottages on Salt Spring Island. Courtesy, Steve MacNaull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, the cottage inspection.

Good building.

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