About MDF moldings

The focal point of this master bedroom is neither the stunning bed nor the separate sitting area. Rather the eye is drawn to the trayed ceiling with a dazzling uplighting that washes it with light and color. The romance of the mood lighting becomes obtainable by the dial of a dimmer. Decorative crown molding hides the wires and bulbs, leaving only clean lines and light. Postmedia Network

Next to giving your interior walls a fresh coat of paint, investing in new casings, baseboards, and crown moldings is one of the best value added ways of improving your home.

That being so, there are some basic finishing rules to follow, along with a few installation strategies, that’ll help make working with MDF moldings all the more easier.

If you haven’t shopped for finishing trims in the last 15 years or so, the market has almost totally gone MDF (medium density fiberboard). You can still buy the finger-joint, clear pine, oak, and poplar species of casings and baseboards, but with the fashion trend still leaning towards painted moldings, as opposed to staining, MDF delivers the biggest bang for the buck.

Simply put, MDF is far cheaper in price, and is available in far more profiles, than traditional paint grade moldings such as finger-joint pine or poplar. Because the MDF product consists of sawdust and various glues, some home builders, fearing the off-gassing or VOC (volatile organic compound) element of a manufactured product, choose solid wood.

Actually, all wood species omit small doses of formaldehyde in their natural state. However, today’s MDF moldings are purchased factory sealed with a primer, which basically eliminates the off-gassing or VOC factor. As a result, the off-gassing or VOC concern regarding MDF moldings is old news, dating back about 20 years.

If you’ve worked with real wood moldings in the past, and are looking to install your own MDF casings and baseboards today, there’s one major factor that separates MDF from the popular finger–joint pine moldings of the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s the fact MDF moldings accept a nail the same way a cat accepts being tossed into a pool of water.

MDF moldings don’t like regular finishing nails, or being hammered, or being pre-drilled, and due to being so hard and somewhat brittle a product, the moldings’ edges can dent easily if over-handled.

Therefore, if you’re about to take on the task of installing MDF, be sure to buy, rent, or borrow, a pneumatic finishing nailer. What about pre-drilling the MDF, then tapping in a finishing nail, you may ask? Although a useful technique with hardwoods, a finishing nail tapped into MDF (even if pre-drilled) will cause the surface material to puff out once the nail head embeds the surface, creating a bump, which will essentially look lousy. MDF moldings absolutely need to be air nailed, and there’s no getting around that.

Rules to follow when choosing a casing and baseboard? One, they should match each other, of course, and two, the casing always needs to be thicker than the base. The baseboard molding will in most cases be wider than the casing, but it should never be thicker.

Some folks choose a thicker baseboard, with the strategy that it will hide the expansion spacing required between a wall and the hardwood or laminate flooring, thereby saving on the need for a shoe molding. Please don’t commit this finishing faux pas. Too thin a casing, or even a casing that is the same thickness of the base, looks horrible. When these two moldings meet, the shadow line created by having the casing thicker than the base, is key to proper finishing.

If you absolutely can’t live with a shoe mold following the perimeter of the floor, or have fallen in love with a particularly thick baseboard molding, and as a result, are left with too thin a casing, consider using a back-band molding to beef up the thickness of the casing.

Next, pre-paint your casings and baseboards before installing them. This strategy simply takes advantage of gravity, given that it’s easier to paint a molding while it’s lying flat, than sitting up on a wall.

Finally, caulk the seam where the casing or baseboard meets the wall, but never the miter joint. Gaps in a miter or butt joint can’t be saved with caulking. If the joint’s not tight, accept the loss and cut it over again.

Good building.

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

The should’a, could’a, would’a dilemma

I got a call the other day from a lady, a senior, who’s completely dissatisfied with the renovation work just completed on her older home.

I don’t know this lady, nor was I familiar with the contractor responsible for this debacle, nor did we supply any of the material for this project, but she wanted me to pass by her place in order to inspect the job, pass judgment, confirm the inadequacy of this job performance, so that once documented, this fellow could be taken to court for the sake of her complete financial restitution.

When I informed this person I am not a licensed contractor, nor a home inspector and that I don’t really feel comfortable leaving the safe confines of my office – because I’ve watched enough horror movies to know unassuming retailers like myself, upon entering a dark and gloomy century home owned by some little old lady will, nine times out of 10, end up buried in the basement – she understood my apprehension.

According to the descriptive manner relating to how these various wall, window, and floor products were installed, there was more than likely a cause for concern.

However, passing judgment on the work of others is easy, especially if you haven’t seen the before picture and are unfamiliar with the circumstances and limitations relating to this project.

In other words, sure the floor is crooked and maybe the windows don’t fit so flush with the inside wall, but was it contractor incompetence that led to these errors, or a restricted budget with limited resources?

Regardless, there are legal means by which to pursue somebody who’s failed to satisfy the stipulations set out in your working contract. Although I’m unqualified to comment further on the legal or courtroom process, what I can say with assurance is the strategy of chasing somebody who doesn’t want to be found in order to be financially compensated should be a last-ditch effort.

How do we avoid these legal costs of time and money?

Do your contractor-research homework before starting the project.

In this case, the person hired was a friend, of a friend, of a neighbour, and was known to do renovation jobs for cash after completing his regular job of delivering pizza and smuggling cigarettes across the St. Lawrence River.

There’s nothing saying such a versatile fellow can’t be a qualified and licensed contractor as well. But, when their cell phone numbers change from week to week, and always with a robotic message response, the odds of this guy being legit are pretty slim.

This lady should have given one of us building supply dealers a call. From a list of qualified and licensed carpenters, she could have chosen a few names and requested quotes pertaining to each job. Upon meeting the various carpenters, she would have then chosen the person most qualified for the job, based on references provided, who best understood what she wanted, and who she felt most comfortable with.

Two mistakes first-time, or only occasional renovating homeowners do, is one: choose a contractor based on who’s available at the time; and, two: go too big, demanding too many tasks of a contractor, especially if they’re only a two-or-three-person outfit.

If your preferred contractor is weeks away from being available, book him in accordingly, and wait.

Unless you’ve got a foot of water in the basement, or a tree limb puncturing through the east side of your home, rarely does a home renovation fall under the category of urgent.

If you’ve got a lot of jobs to get done, break up your renovations into manageable segments. So, if you’re going to be replacing a few windows, get that done, assess the quality of the workmanship, then move on to the flooring, or whatever’s next.

Taking things step by step keeps you in control of the situation, helps minimize the mess, and maintains your sanity throughout.

Good building.

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

Band aids are for cuts

File #182, case name “Moldy Band Aids ”, has a young couple searching for a mold resistant paint in order to protect their joists and plywood from mold.

The couple had just added a 400 sq. ft. four season sunroom, including a full height basement, onto their existing 1200 sq. ft. home. While in the freshly poured basement, they noticed mold growing on the 2×10 floor joists and plywood below the newly finished area above. Their intentions were to scrub off the mold, then paint the floor joists and underside of the plywood, creating a less desirable surface for this household menace to grow on.

Although their strategy to paint the joists and plywood wasn’t totally flawed, with there certainly being mold resistant paints and primers available, it was definitely a young person’s solution. Encouraging somebody who’s 60-plus to reach up and paint floor joists, providing them with the opportunity to revive some of those old shoulder joint pains, would be like convincing them to bungee jump.

As they were further explaining the situation, my thoughts were more directed towards what was causing this mold issue in the first place. They requesting my recommendation of paints or primers, was kind of like seeking my advice as to what size of pail would best remedy a leaky faucet.

Bandage solutions are for the young, because they have the energy to watch them fail, then do them all over again. When you get older, your goal is to do things once. My suggestion was to focus on the real issue, which is what’s causing the mold, as opposed to choosing the proper roller and angled paint brush.

Mold requires the same three elements for survival as us humans, them being air, food, and water. Eliminate any one of the three, and you will have solved the mold problem. Air, we all require, while food particulates floating around in the home’s atmosphere are going to be practically impossible to control. So, that leaves water. Upon further questioning, it was discovered that the basement area had yet to be heated, and was simply accessible through a doorway, whereby the finished area above was being serviced by a gas stove. The original 1200 sq. ft. home is being heated by the only unit the house has ever known, a 16-year-old gas furnace.

Solution? This newly poured basement is exuding gallons of moisture, which is no doubt feeding this thriving colony of mold. As a result, this couple has got to get some air circulation and heat into the basement. When I inquired as to the existence of a heat or air exchanger, the fellow thought that there was indeed a unit attached to the furnace, although its age was uncertain. When I inquired as to their plans on replacing the furnace, since their existing unit was certainly near the end of its life cycle, and was going to be asked to further handle 30 per cent more living space, the fellow assured me the unit was in good working order, and that there were no plans for a change.

“What about installing an air/heat exchanger in the new basement area, wouldn’t that solve the moisture issue?” the fellow questioned. Perhaps, but again, we’re talking an $800 band aid solution. Basically, the budget for this rather extensive renovation should have included a complete reconfiguration of the heating systems and ductwork by a HVAC (Heating, Cooling, and Air conditioning) contractor or engineer. What this home needs is a high efficiency furnace and HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit, along with the necessary ductwork to circulate heat, and draw air out of the new basement and living space above.

If you’re not sure as to the efficiency of a mechanical unit, or whether it needs replacement, consider the age and reliability of your machine in dog years. That big number should help in your decision to upgrade the mechanical services in your home.

Good building.

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

So, what’s changed?

Stuff happens for a reason. The domino effect. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. We have found the enemy, and he is us. These are phrases the average homeowner and do-it-yourselfer knows all too well. And, barring the existence of Gremlins, or the phenomena of bad luck, why is it that home renovations never go quite so smoothly, with the results often being below expectations?

Understanding that most products have undergone some type of testing, quality control, and have a general history of use, there are still a couple of variables that can make or break the success of a renovation project, them being the labor factor, and the environment in which these products are being installed.
Not hiring a professional tradesperson, and doing the job yourself, certainly adds risk to any project, as does not preparing or modifying the home’s structure, in order to effectively accept whatever you’re proposing to add or change.

Matter at hand, Case # 625, the mysterious popping ceramic floor tiles. After renovating their kitchen, this couple installed ceramic floor tiles on their kitchen floor, and the adjoining hallway. Then, a few months later, tiles in various spots began to pop loose. The homeowner was at a loss as to why his tiles weren’t sticking, since he had laid tiles before, and therefore was somewhat experienced. Plus, the kitchen had an existing tile floor (which was removed purely for esthetic reasons), in which there was never an issue of cracked tiles or loose grout lines beforehand, therefore the subfloor was presumably sound. “With all things being consistent, why are these new tiles not sticking?” the fellow questioned. “So, what’s changed?” was my response. “There were no changes” he said. “We simply replaced the kitchen cupboards and counters, added some lighting, and basically worked within the same rectangular area as before” he continued. “But” he then paused for a moment, “we did add an island to the middle of the space”, he remembered, “but that was it” he concluded.

Just to be clear to all you folks out there in home renovation land, using the terms “replace” and “add” are indeed indications that changes have occurred. In this case, about 900 pounds of granite top and cabinetry was added to the center (essentially the weakest, and most bouncy part) of the kitchen floor. You have to then consider that a kitchen Island is a natural magnet for family and guests to gather around, sampling snacks, enjoying a beverage, all while recounting compelling tales of their storied past. This presents another 800-1200 pounds of walking, moving matter, all combining to somewhat deflect the natural state of the floor joists, while certainly creating stomping reverberations throughout the underlay plywood.

Ceramic, porcelain, and slate tiles make for excellent kitchen floors, provided of course that the subfloor, and substrate, are absolutely rock solid. This beautiful kitchen was no doubt adding tremendous living quality to this couple’s home, but it was unfortunately creating a somewhat unstable environment for their ceramic floor.

Again, stuff happens for a reason. This isn’t a case of bad luck, just poor planning. And the enemy? The homeowner, of course, for not dealing properly with this 2000 pound hippopotamus in the room. In hindsight (and not that it’s too late), the kitchen floor should have been bolstered with additional joists, perhaps doubling up on every cross member. Or, if the basement area is unfinished, and should space allow, a supporting wall could be framed directly underneath the island. Furthermore, a Ditra matting would have been a good idea in lieu of all this extra cabinetry, and heavier appliances. Ditra is an orange, dimpled membrane that effectively distributes the weight bearing load of a ceramic floor, ensuring its stability. Finally, was the proper, or quality mortar and grout used to glue these tiles in position? Premium mortars and grouts are more costly, but offer greater flexibility, and are a better choice for larger floor tiles and high traffic areas.

Good building.

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

The attic as a tuque

Properly insulating the attic is an important part of home heating. It’s also definitely a do-it-yourself job. Postmedia Network

There are two types of tuque people — those persons with a mop full of hair who selectively wear tuques as a fashion statement, and the follicly challenged, who on a cold winter’s day, depend on this garment for their ultimate survival.

The tuque, for all its simplicity, is nevertheless an effective tool in guarding our heads from two of the basic characteristics of heat. These being that heat rises, and that heat naturally moves from hot to cold.

Therefore, understanding that a warm entity, such as your body, or your home, doesn’t absorb cold, but conversely loses heat, gives us a better understanding of the value of insulating your head, and our related topic of today, your home’s attic.

Now, what about the row of shirtless guys with painted letters on their chests that frequent -25 degree Celsius professional football games, why aren’t they freezing, you may ask? Unfortunately, the science of heat transfer cannot be altered by applying paint to one’s chest, nor can it be subdued for any length of time with the use of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, or the vocalizing of inspirational chants. With heat escaping their bodies in great volumes with every second that passes, these brave souls will have approximately a 10-minute window in which to get themselves on camera. If their moment of glory should pass, the boys will have some humbling choices. Either continue their shirtless crusade, and die like real men or, toss on their jackets and huddle up like a gang of emperor penguins. Regardless, shame and humility is in their future.

So, your home, like a lettered body up there in row #102, requires insulation, not so much to keep the cold out, but to keep the heat in. And, due to heat rising, and cool air sinking, properly sealing the space between living area and attic space becomes even more critical to home comfort and energy savings.

In today’s age of rising heating costs, a homeowner should be looking to insulate their attic floor with at least R-60 of thermal resistance. This would translate into layering the floor space with 18-20 inches of fiberglass pink batt insulation, or filling the area with 22-24 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Insulating, or adding insulation to a home’s attic space is a very do it yourself project, with the greatest challenge to success being your ability to manoeuvre up through the ceiling’s 22 x 30 inch attic hatch. If you’re capable of achieving this semi acrobatic feat, have your local building supply dealer deliver a sheet of 5/8 inch spruce plywood (cut in half, providing two pieces of 2’ x 8’ walking planks) along with the insulation. The 5/8” plywood, placed diagonally or perpendicular to the truss joists, will allow you to safely navigate the attic floor, in order to place the batts or blow in the wool.

Don’t omit the plywood or skimp on a thinner sheeting. Sure footing is key to the success of any operation. With the truss joists providing 1-1/2 inches of footing, spaced at every 24 inches on center, while being somewhat hidden by any existing insulation, the chances of a fellow’s eligibility in entering a gender neutral washroom facility, increases twofold with every attempted step. Plus, the plywood can be further ripped into 12 inch strips, providing excellent shelving, or be used to create a deeper shaft around your attic hatch.

Before insulating, ensure that there are attic vents (24” x 48” raised foam shields) stapled and fitted in between each truss, that stretch down into the soffit. These vents are essential in preventing the insulation from blocking the cool air from being drawn up into the attic space.

Finally, invest in a sheet of 2 inch ridged insulation, then cut it to size and glue the pieces to the back of your attic hatch door, effectively insulating this last cold spot.

Good building.

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

What to dew

Properly insulating your home can reduce the amount of energy you use and save you money. Postmedia Network

Back in the olden days, when energy was cheap, the Habs were winning Stanley Cups, and our knee joints were well-oiled and pain-free, batt insulation was all we needed to keep our homes relatively cozy inside.

Then came the term “thermal bridging”, which enlightened us to the fact that lumber isn’t all that good an insulator. And, considering wall designs featured a stud at every 16 inches on center, the overall R-value of the wall was reduced significantly. A typical wall assembly would have contained either an R-12 or R-20 batt of insulation, depending on whether the wall had been framed with 2×4 or 2×6 lumber. The weakness in this system, energy wise, is the solid lumber, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the wall’s mass overall. With a thermal resistance value of about R-1 per inch, between every 15-1/2 inch span of warm, protective insulation, you had 1-1/2 inches of solid wood that would effectively allow the cold to migrate through to the inside, hence the term “thermal bridge”.

So, how can we as homeowners, and home builders, reduce the cold thermal bridge inadvertently created by the wood studding? The answer is Johns Manville’s polyiso ridged insulation board. With a thermal value of R-6 per inch, polyiso ridged sheeting can be installed directly over the wall studs, or over the OSB (oriented strand board) or plywood sheeting. The JM polyiso board is not a structural sheeting, therefore, a stud wall would have to be re-enforced with steel bracing if it were to be nailed directly to the lumber.

How thick should a homeowner consider going with their JM polyiso? Minimally 1 inch, with a 1-1/2 inch sheeting being better, and a 2 inch ridged board better yet.
Essentially, with the cost of heating being what it is, there’s no such thing as over-insulating an exterior wall. Therefore, a standard wall assembly in 2017 would begin with drywall on the inside, then a 6 mil. vapour barrier, wood studding with batt insulation in between, then a plywood sheeting, followed by JM polyiso, then a house wrap, ending with the customer’s choice of siding overtop. The 6 mil polyethylene vapour barrier is always installed on the warm side of a wall assembly, and effectively stops heat and moisture from entering the wall system.

Many people question why a plastic vapour barrier couldn’t be installed on the outside of an exterior wall as well. Or, be installed on the outside only, since that’s the side that faces the elements, and is the most likely side to let water in. Two elements dictate why we install a plastic vapour barrier on the inside wall only — our colder weather conditions, and the resulting dew point. In a perfect world, with a dry and air tight exterior wall cavity, having a vapour barrier on both sides would be the perfect scenario. Unfortunately, we can’t build a home in the same way we build a fridge, or beer cooler, at least not yet anyway. So, moisture already in the wall assembly, or entering the wall cavity by some other means, has got to be able to escape somewhere. In our Canadian climate, that’s best accomplished by having moisture dissipate towards the exterior.

Without a vapour barrier on the inside wall, heat and moisture would get into the insulation, then hit the dew point (the line where warm meets cold) somewhere in between the studs. An ice mass would then develop in the insulation, killing it’s thermal value, while creating all kinds of mold issues once things thawed out in the spring.

Installing a JM polyiso creates a band of continual insulation, and moves the dew point to about half way into its foam core, well out of the wall cavity. As a result, the thicker the JM ridged foam board, the further cold is kept from the home, and that’s a good thing.

Good building.

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

Rock cousins

Today we’re talking brands of insulation, and where it should be installed in the home.

There are basically two kinds, or more common types of batt insulation used in the exterior walls of most homes, them being fiberglass and mineral wool.

Fiberglass batts, such as Owens Corning’s pink insulation, is not so surprisingly, made of woven fibers of glass. Mineral wool, also referred to as rock wool, is made of crushed volcanic rock, steel slag, and other bonding agents.

The most popular mineral wool insulation in today’s market is a product made by the Roxul Company. The Roxul name has become so recognized by homeowners and contractors alike, that people never specifically request a mineral wool insulation, but will simply ask for “Roxul” instead.

Is there a difference between a fiberglass and rock wool product? And, is one better than the other? Material wise, the pink insulation is made of glass, which comes from sand, whereby mineral wool is derived from crushed rock. So, these products are pretty close cousins.

Consistency wise, fiberglass pink is kind of like day old spaghetti, while Roxul has a density similar to toast. As a result, the pink fiberglass is somewhat stringy, and a little more difficult to cut. Plus, the glass fibers can break apart a bit if the material is over andled, which will cause an itchy reaction if you’ve made the mistake of not wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.

Roxul, on the other hand, cuts like . . . well toast, making it an easy product to fit around electrical outlets and ductwork. Roxul, like toast, is crumbly, or rather, a little more dusty than fiberglass. So again, completely covering your body with clothing, along with goggles and a dust mask, are all required equipment.

Choosing one over the other depends primarily on whether you like the Owens Corning Pink Panther logo, which for some may rekindle thoughts of the mischievous cartoon character, and some of the classic Inspector Clouseau movies starring Peter Sellers. Or, if you’re a fan of home repair reality television, whereby Roxul is certainly the favored batt product of the celebrity carpenters (Roxul must be feeding these guys all the insulation they can butter).

Price wise, fiberglass pink is significantly cheaper than Roxul. This could be due to actual costs of manufacturing, or the fact it costs a few more bucks to feed Mike Holmes, than it does paying royalties to MGM Studios.

Product wise, both are used primarily as insulation in the exterior walls of residential homes. Roxul has the added bonus of being fireproof, whereby a Roxul booth at a typical home and trade show will usually have the rather impressive feature of a piece of Roxul being blasted by a direct flame of heat. Regardless, after a total and complete loss to fire, never has a home been found with a pile of Roxul sitting amongst the rubble. In other words, you put enough heat on something, it’s going to burn, or melt. However, timing is everything when it comes to a fire in the home, whereby if the flame spread can be delayed by even a minute or two, lives can be spared. As a result, Roxul is a popular choice to use in walls separating the garage from the house, or in the floors of a home, separating the basement from the living space above. Fiberglass pink can also be used in this manner, with glass obviously having a relatively high threshold to heat. However, fiberglass pink doesn’t advertise itself as fireproof, and is primarily marketed for its value as an insulation. Besides being an essential product for the exterior wall, and an effective barrier to flame spread, insulation can be an excellent sound barrier. So, be sure to consider it for bathroom and bedroom dividing walls if you’re going to be building a new home or renovating this spring.

Good building.

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

The hammer is in heaven

Did you hear that?” said Al. “No, I didn’t hear anything,” replied Hank.

It sounded like a crack, are you sure you didn’t hear anything Hank?” says Al.

Listen Al,” says Hank, “the sound you heard was probably my old knee acting up again. So stop your worrying and give that last 2×4 wall stud a good shot with the sledgehammer.

Moments later, the boys find themselves seated in a rather crowded little room.

Gee Hank, you don’t look so good,” says Al. “Really,” says Hank, “other than the fact I seem to have crushed my lower body, I feel pretty good, and as a matter of fact, the knee pain is gone.

But I gotta tell you Al,” says Hank, “your head’s about as flat as a pancake.” “And hey Al,” says Hank, “look at that moron seated over there.

Who?” says Al. “The guy with the crowbar passing through one ear to the other? What a maroon, they’ll be calling him ol’ crowbar head from now on,” and the boys share a laugh.

Unfortunately, the boys, along with ol’ crowbar head, have found themselves in the Unfortunate Home Repair Tragedies Department of what they’re about to discover is Do it Yourself Heaven.

The mistake was taking down a load bearing wall in a just-purchased older home without having studied the original plan, or having consulted a professional engineer. What a home purchaser has to realize is that every previous owner has in some manner, altered the home.

This home modification could have been limited to drywall repair and a subsequent coat of paint. Or, buyer #3 could have attempted his own bit of household engineering, with the former owner and a buddy having shocked the obituary pages decades before.

So, if you’re buying an older home, it would be useful to know the number of previous owners. Homes that are 80+ years old can be spectacular with their solid wood doors, large casings and baseboards. However, with six to eight previous owners, it’s pretty well a given that somebody has fiddled around, or removed something, from somewhere. Or, even with fewer owners, homes tend to see a major renovation, especially to kitchens and bathrooms, every 12-15 years.

Therefore, if the century home you’re about to purchase has an open staircase, and a couple of eight-foot patio doors leading to an interlocking brick terrace, along with an open loft area above, with the whole picture conspicuously resembling last August’s cover of Modern Country Home Monthly, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Not to say that there’s cause for concern. Hopefully, the proper engineering strategies would have been put into play. Creating an open concept from a space historically carved up into smaller rooms requires a sound strategy. If however, you wanted to see how the home might have looked, and been divided up originally, a visit to our local Upper Canada Village might be in order.

Can a bearing wall be removed? Absolutely. Basically, the weight of the roof trusses, plywood, and shingles, now being supported by a wall, must be transferred to a beam. This beam would then be supported by a post at each end, with the weight on these posts being passed on to two posts directly beneath them.

Essentially, weight needs to be transferred from one key point to another, with the last spot of contact being the concrete floor, a.k.a. terra firma.

How large a beam will be needed? Should it be constructed of composite lumber or steel? And, how thick a concrete pad will be required in order to handle this immense weight? These are all questions that will need to be addressed by an architect or structural engineer, not Hammering Hank and Al’s Renos, may they rest in peace.

Good building

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

Don’t move that wall

Would you go to a zoo, take out your pair of pocket bolt cutters, and free a tiger of its cage?

Would you venture out onto a pond, the day after minus degree weather created an ever so thin sheet of ice over top, to organize a game of shinny for the local seniors club?

Would you try to re-position the cheese on a rat trap after it’s been set? The mechanism, after all, is designed to snap the neck of a relatively tough rodent.

Therefore, is it really necessary to find out whether pain will result if you should happen to trigger the spring?

Participating in any one of these scenarios would seem unlikely. Then again, why do people, coffee in hand and sitting comfortably at their kitchen table, and after feeling an overwhelming urge for more open space, delay refilling their cup, and take a sledgehammer to the nearest wall?

It’s what was documented as “sudden claustrophobia syndrome” by the renowned psychologist Fred Sigmund, who not so surprisingly, authored the followup, and timely homeowner’s renovation manual titled, “Our roof collapsed on my mother-in-law, and other related fix ups.”

Most homeowners want more space and more natural light, with existing walls the obvious culprit in preventing this from happening. There can be several interior walls in a home, falling into one of two categories, those being “dividing” or “load bearing”. Dividing walls are usually recognized by their 2×3 or 2×4 construction framework, and by the fact they’re normally shorter in length, whereby if we’re talking the 8 ft. wall used to separate a bedroom from the bathroom, it’s most likely a dividing wall. Load bearing walls will span the width or length of the home, and are normally constructed with 2×6 lumber, so they’re usually recognizable by their thicker appearance.

Now, a load bearing wall isn’t necessarily continuous wall, it could be broken up to allow for a hallway or archway. That being said, and even though there’s an open space underneath, the load bearing wall will have some type of continuous beam overhead, with the weight of this beam supported by extra framing in the walls. The difference between a dividing wall and a load bearing wall is that one simply divides, while the other keeps the roof and floor structure from collapsing.
Besides a load bearing wall usually being a couple of inches thicker than a dividing wall, load bearing walls can normally be confirmed by the fact they’re supported by a wall, or beam, directly underneath. The point of one load bearing wall being directly under a load bearing wall from the floor above, is to allow for the transfer of weight from the trusses and snow load, all the way down to the concrete footing in the basement.

Load bearing walls are structurally engineered to keep the home solid, and free from sag and compromise. So, as a homeowner, or person about to buy a home, you never touch a wall before having an engineer, architect, or accredited home builder, have a look at things. Plus, be aware of the term “usually”, as in load bearing walls are usually thicker, or usually run the full span of the home, or are usually supported by jack posts and a beam in the basement. Home designs aren’t all alike, with some engineering strategies not following traditional means of load bearing support.

Plus, if you’re the fourth or fifth owner of a home, particularly if its 50-100 years old, previous owners may have changed things. Older, larger homes were often designed with small rooms for energy preserving reasons. With the desire for more open space, walls were often removed without the consideration of whether they were load bearing or not. Which, would account for why many older homes have squeaky floors and slanted ceilings. It’s not necessarily that they’re old, they may very well be missing a leg to stand on.

Good building and safe renovating.

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

This old house

There’s much to like about older homes, but they can also come with some challenges. Postmedia Network

We purchased an old house once, ONCE!

Actually, we still live in an older home, built in the 80’s. So, when people question what type of home is the better investment, new or old, several factors come into play. Plus, our history of home ownership somewhat bucks the seemingly natural progression of buying an older home first, fix it up, sell, then buy an old home, renovate, sell, then build a brand new home.

We progressed from building a brand new semi-detached, followed by a brand new home a few years later, to buying a century old farm house, then moving into our existing, simply older home of today.

After 30 years of living in various new, old, and very old structures, what single distinguishing home feature separates the then and now of home building? The use of the basement.

Our first two homes were new, with finished basements. Our last two homes were old, where in the century home we were faced with a dungeon, essentially unsuitable for modern human life, whereby a basement renovation would have cost more than the price of the home. Our existing basement space is typical of most homes built in that era. That being a generally low ceiling, unfriendly placement of duct work (requiring anybody over 5’8” to duck every five steps) and the occasional puddle of water on the floor. So, other than being a relatively good venue for youngsters to hone their wrist and slap shot skills, the 30-year-old basement can be a risky investment living space wise. Risky, but not impossible.

The advantage new homes have is that the basement walls have not only been sealed with foundation tar, but they’ve been subsequently covered with either a plastic dimpled membrane, or water sheading type of fiber matting. Plus, the weeping tile systems are perfectly clean, effectively diverting water into a sump base, or sewer system.

In the olden days, concrete basement walls were simply tarred, with sediment and soil settlement certainly having somewhat compromised the weeping tiles effectiveness by now. When the homes defensive system breaks down, water gets in.

So, what do you do if this great older home comes for sale, but you really need the space provided by a finished basement? Well, you either walk away, or forget putting money into the more fun, kitchen and bathroom areas for now, and call in the backhoe. Only by excavating around the foundation, installing a new impermeable membrane, and new weeping tile drain, can you really be guaranteed a dry space for the next 20 years.

Although never chosen for their basement advantages, older homes are often attractive due to their uniqueness, reasonable price, but most often, location. Location is huge, whereby the best strategy asset wise, is usually to buy the worst home on the best street. Therefore, if this old house is livable by your standards, then every penny you put into it should increase its value, and be recuperated if you decide to sell years later.

What can you expect to replace or repair in an older home? Well, if history, or our experience, is any indication of what is, most homes for sale are at the end of their work cycle. In other words, we haven’t met a homeowner yet who chose to update their furnace, re-shingle the roof, or renovate the kitchen and bathroom areas, before putting their house on the market. It’s been more of a take it as is, sure we’ve just given the place a coat of paint, but basically that’s the price, and if anything should break or go wrong, may the strength of your faith pull you through.

Best bet, have an accredited home inspector, or home builder friend, take a walk through this older home with you. They’ll have the experience to ignore the staged bowl of fruit and fresh flowers on the counter, and get right to checking the age of mechanical systems, roofing, windows, and the general integrity of the homes envelope.

Good building.

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