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

Maximizing that attic breeze

Caulking a continuous ridge vent. TINABELLE / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

File No. 989 has us examining the case of a Mr. Victor MacLaren, aka “ventilation Vic,” due to Mr. MacLaren operating his own heating and cooling company.

What’s of interest to Vic, and a general rule of thumb that guides his professional manner and lifestyle, are the benefits of air flow. Vic drives a convertible in the summer, cranks down the windows when driving in the winter, always installs a supplementary fan or venting mechanism when installing his ductwork, and wears a kilt most days, in true Scottish fashion, having foregone the use of underwear since the turn of the century.

So, be it lifestyle, mechanics, or personal hygiene, the chances of condensation or moisture affecting the comfort levels in Mr. MacLaren’s life are truly minimal.

Which brings us to Victor’s latest challenge: putting a new asphalt roof on a recently purchased 100-year-old home. The home presently has two layers of shingles installed over a boarded roof.

So, the immediate strategy would be to remove both layers of shingles, replace any deteriorated planks, and then cover the entire roof with 3/8-inch plywood sheeting.

The next challenge will be how to solve the lack of attic ventilation.

Why worry about ventilation when roofing issues have seemingly been fine over the past 100 years?

Well, by looking a little closer, we find things with the home haven’t been so fine. First, the shingles have been in a curled-up state for almost a decade, which luckily up to this point hasn’t led to any severe leakage issues. Plus, the plaster on the ceiling is soft and cracked in several areas.

Upon inspection of the attic, signs of black mould and rot can be found on the underside of the roof planking.

The aged asphalt shingles might not be allowing any significant amounts of rain or snow melt to pass through, but the condensation resulting from warm attic air meeting a cold roof plank is creating a shower of water dripping down on the insulation, with this moisture further infiltrating the plastered ceiling.

Solving attic moisture issues means creating an atmosphere where the air temperature inside the attic matches that of the outside. This can be achieved by naturally encouraging air to draft in and out of the attic.

Where to start?

First we measure the attic space, which is basically the home’s width x the length, or in the case of this standard 30’x40’ stone home, about 1,200 square feet.

The exhaust venting in this case can be satisfied by two No. 303 Maxivents (the popular chimney-like structures), five No. 65 slant-back vents, or 30 feet of ridge-cap venting.

I like the Maxivent option for two reasons. One, it means fewer holes and less cutting for the roofer. With fewer holes, the chance of leakage is minimized. And two, of the three options, the Maxivent is the most efficient mechanism to draw air out of your attic.

Air intake is usually done through the soffit. However in Mr. MacLaren’s case, the soffit area on his century home is sealed with beautiful wood planking, with decorative corbels placed at every four feet along the perimeter of the roof.

Due to the lack of soffit, the previous owner had installed a series of three-inch-round vents in between the corbels, a poor substitute which clearly wasn’t performing the task of drawing outside air into the attic.

So, we know how air is moving out of the attic, but how are we to effectively draw air into the attic, without of course taking the drastic measure of removing those century old corbels and installing regular soffit panels?

The suggested solution will involve installing four Vmax intake vents (two per side) on the lower edge of the roofline. The Vmax vents effectively replace the need for soffit, and are part of the Maxivent series of products, working in perfect co-ordination with the two Maxi No. 303s situated near the peak of the roof.

With those options presented, file No. 989 was closed.

Good building.

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

Making your shingles last

What can a homeowner do to have their asphalt shingles last at least long enough to see their children through college, thereby avoiding the financial double whammy of tuition and having to pay for three pallets of roofing products?

Let’s start with the installer.

Besides getting references from their previous customers and your local building supply centre, look for a few minimum standards, like someone who has his own vehicle, and a trailer for handling scrapped materials. Plus, their pickup should have permanent lettering on the door, prominently displaying the company name or logo.

Avoid the guy whose accreditation required him properly levelling one of those 12”x18” magnetic mats on the driver’s side door. These guys are most easily recognized by a “Frank’s Roofing-free estimates” type of mat, stuck to the door panel of a vehicle that looks like it just escaped the wrecking yard cruncher.

Upon inspection of this fellow’s vehicle, it wouldn’t be surprising to find other magnetic-mat specialties, such as “Frank’s Pizza Delivery,”, or “Frank’s no-leak plumbing,” which to his credit, demonstrates a work ethic and versatility, but may be further proof of this fellow’s homeschooled level of accreditation.

Next, today’s Fiberglas shingles require stability, which means following a pretty straight forward set of directives regarding shingle installation, shingle underlayment, and attic ventilation.

Installation?

There are basically two ways or manner of pose, regarding asphalt shingles. One is the regular four-nail per tab installation, where four nails are placed at the top of the shingle tab, with the bottom of the tab being held down by means of a sticky glue-strip (found under each shingle) that gets engaged by heat generated from the sun. The second method is the six-nail-per-tab/plastic cement installation strategy, used in high wind areas, or during cold-weather (below 0 C) installations.

Windy areas generate dust, with this dust getting underneath the shingle tabs as they’re being installed, adhering to sticky glue-strips. When the sticky strips get covered with dust, the shingle tabs forfeit the bottom sticking mechanism that prevents them from lifting up. Other than dust, cold temperatures will also prevent the sticky strips from properly engaging. The six top nails, as opposed to four, and the dabs of plastic cement placed under each shingle tab, are just extra insurance against shingle lift.

So, if looking out your window has you seeing open field, or river. Or, the frost on the window is preventing you from seeing clearly outdoors regardless, you would be wise to request installation manner No. 2 from your roofer.

Next, shingle underlayment.

Although the installation procedures for Fiberglas shingles do permit you to install your shingles over an existing shingle roof (to a max of three layers) and/or over a boarded roof of 1×6 planks, these are not good ideas.

An average roof requires about 60 bundles of shingles, which weighs about 4,200 pounds, equivalent to one 1986 Pontiac Parisienne, or the combined weight of the Montreal Canadiens playing personnel.

Your home requires one layer of shingles, with every layer underneath unnecessarily burdening your trusses with the equivalent of one automobile parked on your roof. So, removing your old shingles may cost you a few hundred bucks in dumping fees, but it’ll lessen the stress load on your trusses, allow you to fix or remedy any roof underlay issues, and make for a better install overall.

Boarded roofs were popular about 40-50 years ago when contractors were forming their own foundations with 1×6 spruce, then removing these planks once the cement dried and installing them on the roof, an efficient use of materials which worked fine as an underlay for the very flexible, organic (paper felt based) shingles of the day.
However, today’s fiberglass shingles are much more rigid, especially during the colder months, and will better survive the test of time if installed over plywood.

So, if you own a plank roof, be sure to install a 3/8-inch spruce plywood over the planking.

Next week: ventilating your attic.

Good Building.

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

Now onto how to burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burn safe, and good building.

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

Now, onto getting a clean burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps to clean burning?

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

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

Things to consider?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, how to burn.

Good building.

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

Getting that good burn

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

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

Achieving good burn status essentially requires two things:

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

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

That’s basically it.

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

Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either that or dishonorably discharged as scrap steel.

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

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

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

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

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

Next week— lighting the fire. Safe burning.

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

He’s here to become a pain with his cracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

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