Anything but wood

The staircase in the Mackenzie model by Minto at Arcadia splits on the second level to provide separation between the master suite and other bedrooms. Railings are simple metal spindles in urban black with a modern handrail profile. GORDON KING, FOR POSTMEDIA NETWORK

If our goal is only wanting to touch things once, inevitably freeing ourselves from the bondage of home maintenance by eliminating those products requiring a second touch or further care once installed, then the 42-inch beveled-edge baluster is doomed to become the loneliest product in the lumber yard.

Essentially, it’s made of wood, it’s going to require a second touch.

Depending on how long you keep your home, there could very well be third and fourth touches, which all fall under the dubious term of maintenance.

Saying goodbye to wood appendages will be difficult for some, since the wood spindle’s contribution to residential history has been significant. Formed on a lathe, turned Victorian-style spindles were often the showcase items on those grand, century townhomes that featured exquisite wraparound balconies.

From the post-Second World War years to the end of the 20th century, turned spindles were the look of middle-class prosperity, similar to the white picket fence of the previous generation.

So, are we to forfeit the cultural significance of the turned spindle and dismiss its contribution by eliminating its future use?

Well, understanding that painting a turned spindle ranks right up there with having to change a flat tire or manually dig a post hole on the satisfaction spectrum of household jobs we hold most dear, there’s little chance the next generation of homeowner is going to put up with this type of yearly monotony.

Following the turned spindle, the exterior railing trend switched towards the smooth look of the beveled edge baluster. Though the balusters plain finish would reduce maintenance times rather significantly in most cases, one coat of finish is all most balusters were going to see.

Eventually, with brown-coloured treated wood entering the market, balusters and their handrails would most often be left unfinished. With no paint or stain to protect the finish, the thought was these balusters would keep their brown colour for a few years, then gently turn to a lovely grey hue.

This was, of course, one-touch dreaming.

Unfortunately, time does exposed wood favours in the same way it improves our hairlines, and benefits our ageing knees and lower backs.

So, with exterior wood railings and wood trims being the type of products that will need constant revisiting or replacement within six-to-eight years should you totally ignore them, the only solution to not having to maintain wood spindles is essentially avoiding wood spindles or balusters in the first place.

What one-touch type railing systems will the homeowner have to choose from? Well, there are several, with the more popular choices being aluminum, steel, and PVC (vinyl).

Essentially, the steel and aluminum series of railings offer spindles and newel posts that are thin and sleek, with colour choices that include the popular deep brown and black tones of the day. The PVC railing systems offer a slightly heavier looking baluster and newel post, and are a good choice if a traditional white spindled railing is what you’re after.

One-touch porch posts will need to follow a similar rule, although not quite so stringent, to your deck spindles. In other words, wood columns or posts are fine during the construction phase, but will need to be covered with a PVC wrap at the finishing stage.

Similar to the wood joists and general wood structure, there’s no questioning a piece of wood’s integrity or longevity if it’s kept dry.

Are there any conditions which would allow exposed wood to be used on an exterior deck, and still fall under the one-touch philosophy? If any portion of your deck crosses into the State of Arizona, where temperatures vary between dry and very dry, then perhaps. Otherwise, no.

The task of choosing alternative products to wood may seem daunting at first, but don’t fear the challenge.

There are PVC trim-boards, fascia planks, moldings and lattices available to cover any decking challenge.

Next week, does ‘touch it once’ mean saying no to wood decking?

Good building.

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

Go wider and straighter on doors and passageways

This file photo from 2011 shows a home in London, Ont., with a 36-inch wide front door. MIKE HENSON/LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today we continue our efforts to offer insight and advice to those novice homeowners looking to build a new home in the spring.

Our qualifications? A lifetime of errors, miscalculations, and poor decisions.

Our goal? To enlighten first-time homebuilders with a “What Not To-Do” list of home and renovation faux pas, thereby avoiding the building of more multi-divided, multi-levelled, tiny-kitchen/big dining roomed homes by this next generation.

Which, brings us to building error No.12: Narrow doorways and passageways.

The most effective way of realizing most home entrance and doorways are too narrow is by attempting to move something through them. As a father, husband, and owner of a pickup truck, I sometimes get asked to help move things. Which is no problem, because I like picking things up, along with the simple sense of accomplishment one incurs by successfully moving a fridge from point A to point B.

The sensation I don’t so much cherish is the feeling of three layers of skin slowly being shredded off my knuckles by the door jamb, as I attempt to move a 31.5-inch piece of furniture through a 32-inch wide opening.

So, in order to make things a little easier on all those dads, buddies, and certainly the professional movers, let’s add at least two inches to the average door opening.

Plus, you have to consider that people aren’t moving into homes with 1950s- and 1960s-sized fridges and stoves. Today’s kitchen appliances, sofas, and cabinetry, are often huge entities. So, it stands to reason the average 32- to 34-inch front door, and standard 30-inch bedroom doors, are going to have to be widened up a bit.

Start by ensuring the slabs of your exterior doors, including the front entrance door, side entrance doors, and door leading in from the garage, are all 36 inches in diameter.

Next, consider ordering your front entrance door with a handicap sill plate. Other than being a friendlier type of sill for walkers and wheelchairs to navigate over, and very convenient for dollies wheeling heavy appliances, the low profile of a handicap sill simply eliminates the trip ledge created by a standard sill plate.

Next, make your bedroom doors a minimum of 32 inches wide. Thirty inch-wide slabs are the standard, and the reason why I either dent a wall, or bump an elbow, every time I move a cabinet or walk through the doorway with a hamper of clothing.

Although young people tend to walk a little straighter than older folks, having 32-inch + sized interior door slabs will make your moving around a whole lot easier regardless.

Next, if your home is going to have a second storey, thereby requiring stairs, be sure to review the stairway strategy. Some architects and home designers love to incorporate curved stairways, or stairways that have multi-rest stations, having the homeowner climbing up a few steps to a platform, then turning 90 degrees, up another four or five steps, platform, turn, then another four or five steps to the second-floor finish line. The nice thing about curved or tiered stairways is that they’re visually beautiful.

The not so great thing about stairways that are anything other than straight, is you’ll find yourself cutting, then folding your queen-sized box spring in half in order to squeeze it up the stairs.

Non-straight stairways also present a challenge for those taller and wider pieces of furniture, where damage to the drywall is almost guaranteed, and that’s every time you carry it up, or move it down. Plus, every curve or change of direction in a stairway is going to stress the lower backs of the movers.

So, when it comes to stairs, keep ‘em plain, straight, and simple.

Next, wider door slabs will mean less wall space, which may cramp the size of your door casings. So, confer with your architect to ensure he or she allows for at least four or five inches around each finished door opening.

Good building.

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

Think before you build, part one

If you’ve got plans to build a new home next spring, or are thinking about major renovations involving your existing home, let’s go over a few of the do’s and the don’ts regarding your building strategy.

Home building strategy No. 1: Avoid bumps, stair splits, or varying levels of any kind. Essentially, once you, your family members, or your guests, have climbed the three or four steps leading up to the front door, the challenge of further obstacles and light cardio activity should be minimal.

Known as the split level, some home designers have seen it useful to have the homeowners, once comfortably in the home’s entrance and after having placed their shoes and jacket in the closet, climb another four or five steps in order to get themselves into the parlour or lounging area of the home.

Then, after this short climb, designers have often further challenged the home’s occupants with a third, lower tier, in the form of a sunken living room.

If this were an industrial or commercial type of setting, such rises and drops would require a line of yellow caution tape forewarning occupants about the change in floor-scape. Cautioning people to the varying floor heights of a home would be a good idea, but incorporating these yellow caution lines into the colour scheme might be a challenge for your decorator.

On the other hand, there’s no quicker way to sending grandma hurtling to the floor than with the installation of a few strategically placed speed bumps, referred to as ‘thresholds’ in the home biz.

Thresholds can be strips of wood, composite material, or metal, and are used to transition one type of flooring into another when two floorings either differ in thickness, or when floors continue from one room into another.

Regardless of their convenience in joining two floors of varying heights, the inconspicuous quarter-inch bump is often just high enough to catch a passing sole, which is hilarious for everybody except the victim.

Generally, thresholds can be avoided by either adding a layer of subfloor to the thinner flooring, or in the case of ceramic tile, which often finishes to a thicker-than-average height, choosing a cement board or dimpled plastic type of substrate, which is a thinner alternative to the often used spruce plywood sheeting.

Home building strategy No. 2: Avoid stairs. There are a few things in this world that are best left to the young, such as playing contact sports, letting your hair grow long, and climbing stairs.

So, if you’re 30- or 40-something in age and are looking to build a home, incorporate all the various levels and build all the stairs you want. Don’t stop at two stories, but perhaps even go for three, real old-school stuff, with your workout room and stair-master machine located at the top of these two flights of stairs, allowing the homeowner endless opportunities to climb.

However, know that by doing so you’ll be limiting the re-sale potential of your home to a very small demographic.

So, do we avoid stairs and stick to one-storey homes? If possible, and if your lot size will allow it, then absolutely.

There are a number of challenges, like general home maintenance and upkeep, that aging homeowners are going to have to face, so avoid adding climbing stairs to the list.

Home elevators? They exist and they’re costly, but if you’re determined to own a two-storey home well into your 70s and 80s, definitely explore this option. If your budget will allow for an in-home Otis, but you feel you’re a little too young for the elevator option at this point in your life, don’t worry, you’ll eventually get there.

In the interim, if your plans involve staying in your new build for as long as you can stay healthy, then have your architect design the stairway in a manner that will allow for an easy transition to such an option.

Next week, more building options to ponder.

Good building.

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