Monday, 30 April 2012

Much Ado About Roofing

Dear Joe,

The south side of my roof is in need of new shingles.  I had half the roof reshingled in 1998 following the ice storm and the south side shingled in 2005 following some further harsh weather.  Now the fourth side is in need of new shingles and I know that the half I did in 1998 will be due in a few years .  It feels like I am forever having the roof done on my house.  What should I do?

Thanks for your advice,



Thanks for a great question.   This is a question that a lot of homeowners wrestle with, especially those with hip roofs (four sided roofs) with a strong south and west exposure.  When the south side is ready to be reroofed, the north side is still serviceable for another two or three year.  This is where we fall into the trap of doing only half or one side of the roof one year and another side another year and so on in a vain attempt to try and save some money.

When you tally it up you aren’t actually saving any money.  It’s less of an expense at the time you are doing it, and if you truly cannot afford to do the entire thing then it is perfectly acceptable, but in the long run you end up paying more.  You’re hiring a roofer four times instead of one, four times he has to bring his equipment over, four times he has to get up on the roof, four times he has to install the ridge cap, clean up and visit the dump.  As a roofer you are not going to give someone a reduced price when you have to do more work, and if the roofer you hire has a large crew, then one quarter of your roof won’t get them to lunch time so they will definitely have to make it worth their while if you’re not going to have them do the whole thing.

Now from your perspective, money issues aside, having the confidence of a new roof over your head is very reassuring.  Not to mention the hassle of having to schedule a roofer and come up the money to pay them every five years is something most people would gladly forgo.    

It’s really all about peace of mind.  The roof is the part of your home that if not working correctly will compromise every single other part of your home, so it has to work.  My best advice to you is to have the entire roof done at once.  Let the roof go as long as you feel comfortable and when the time comes have two or three contractors come over and give you their opinion and a complementary estimate and base your ultimate decision on that.  Work within your budget but always be sure to stay on top it and protect your investment.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Sinking Feeling

Dear Joe,

I have a small porch on the side of my house that was build some time ago.  I has a quite significant lean to it that seems to be getting worse, not quickly, but gradually sinking along the outside.  I would like to know if there is a way to fix this or if I need to replace the porch.

Thank you for your help.  I love reading your piece each week,

Regards, Bill.


Thank you so much for the great question.  And thank you for being a loyal follower of my little piece.

There could be a couple of reasons for the sinking feeling you are having about your deck.  The root of the problem will be under; either under the deck or underground.    If the deck is truly sinking, then the footings on which it was build will be sinking into the earth.  Now unless you have tons of weight constantly on your deck, which I am sure you don’t, this is probably not the case.  Brand new footings may sink a bit over the first few years as the soil beneath them re-compacts after excavation, which is why it is eminently important when excavating for any concrete work, post, piers, floors or foundations, that the soil at the bottom of the excavation remains undisturbed, and all loose fill be cleaned from the bottom of the hole before aggregate or concrete is poured.  So if your deck is older this won’t be the case as the settling process is long since completed.

I think the better bet is that the posts which rest upon the footings have begun to rot.  If the footings are very close to the earth, and were of untreated lumber, then chances are water has wicked up through the end grain of the post and it has been gradually deteriorating and sinking, year after year.

To fix this you have a couple of options.  Both will require jacking up and levelling of the deck.  One will have you unbolt and replace the existing posts and resting them back on the piers.  If you can’t remove the posts because of the decks construction, then you should cut off the bottom foot of the post (or until you find solid wood) and replace this with a pressure treated piece of the required length to repair the damaged post.  Pressure treated or metal splints on all four sides will ensure that the repair will be strong enough to support the deck and its occupants.  A couple hours after work should be enough to knock off this little repair and have your deck sitting pretty for years to come.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The many facets of faucets

Dear Joe,

I was doing the dishes this morning , like a good husband, and the faucet started to leak on me. It is a considerable leak which I don’t think was there yesterday. It’s one of the one handle jobs and I don’t know how old it is, it was here when we bought the house.  Just wondering what the best thing to do would be, fix or replace?  Really appreciate your help.



Dear Phil,

Thank you for the great question.   Changing a faucet is one of those jobs that every homeowner should know how to do, or at least be confident enough to attempt on their own.  Getting the old one off is definitely the worst part of the job. 

If the faucet is more than five or six years old and sees a lot of use, chances are it will be cheaper to replace the unit with a similar new one.  Things tend to be corroded and seized up after that period of time so it doesn’t really behoove you to pay a plumber two hours labour plus parts to repair what was probably a $100 faucet in the first place.  A quality faucet made of cast brass will have a service life of 30-40 years,  with parts that are readily serviceable when need be.  The el-cheapo is disposable,  just like everything else in our society,  and though parts are available, the amount of effort  required to change them doesn’t warrant your energy.   A simple replacement of the unit, and recycling of the old one is probably the most rewarding decision.

If you are fortunate enough to have a classic piece that has been in service for several decades and wish to keep It in service, it is almost certainly as simple as replacing a little rubber washer at the base of the valve.  Replacing this 25 cent piece will keep you going for another ten years.  Do both sides at the same time, as it’s usually the hot that goes first, and it will keep both sides operating freely.  A little petroleum jelly as you reassemble will make putting it back together much easier as well as staving off the inevitable oxidation for a while longer.

When you decide to replace a fixture like this, do some research, invest in high quality units with robust parts and preferably made of common materials.  For instance, if its stainless steel make sure all the components are stainless, if its brass, make it all brass.  It’s the dielectric reaction between dissimilar metals in the presence of water that make the cheaper faucets oxidize, and wear out their seals prematurely as well as making them impossible to repair when it comes time.  And if the faucet you’re looking at purchasing has any parts make of aluminum, cast or otherwise, put it down and choose another, better quality piece.

A Little Spring In Your Step

Dear Joe

I am making some improvements to the kitchen in my century old farm house.  One of my biggest pet peeves is the floor.  It appears to have sunken down in the middle and is not soft but rather ‘springy’ when you bounce in the center of the room.  I would like to correct this before moving on to more aesthetic undertakings. I appreciate any advice you may offer on this.  Thanks



Thank you for the great question.   This is such a common problem in prewar homes.   Many times this is not an indication of a poorly built structure but rather a symptom of a home that was built with limited means conserving as much lumber as possible as having a less stout home was preferable to no home at all.  But, prior to the second world war, there wasn’t necessarily a shortage of material, or money, it was strictly customary to frame floors and ceilings on 24 inch centers.  With no intention of installing ceramic tiles on these floors, a little bounce was not an issue.  But add to that a builders’ choice to use a 2x10, or even a 2x8 instead of a 2x12 then you have the makings of a pretty springy floor.   Chances are it is not going to fall down any time soon, but if you want to stiffen it up for any reason there is an app for that.

What you’ll want to do is acquire yourself a beam.  The beam can be made of many things.  Steel I-beam,  engineered wood, or traditional 2 by lumber in two or three plies nailed or screwed and glued together, or one solid milled piece of lumber.  It will need to be the width of your room, perpendicular to the floor joists, plus a couple inches.

Now you have to get this piece of material into the basement, could be tricky if your room is 20 feet wide, and you have to manoeuver a 21 foot beam down a narrow old staircase.  Maybe a basement window is a better idea.

Once down in the basement you need to decide how to support it.  At either end you can use 4x4 posts cut nice and snug and driven in with a sledge hammer or on an outside foundation wall, a bracket fashioned from a chunk of 3 inch angle iron bolted to the concrete.  If the floor is really bad, you may have to leave one end hang several inches low and use a jackpost to slowly work the beam up into place.  It is also advisable to do this kind of coaxing when the weather is warm and humid as the old wood will be slightly more inclined to concede to your coaxing.  If you have several inches you need to take up I would recommend doing this raising over the course of days or weeks instead of minutes or hours.  Remember, it took 100 years to get into that position, it ain’t moving back in 20 minutes.

Once the beam is in its upright and locked position, you should plan to have a jackpost every 10 or 12 feet or in the center of the span at least.

Now remember that your floor will never be perfect.  Chances are it wasn’t perfect when it was built.  The best you can hope for is to stop the bounce, minimize the squeaks and make it so you don’t have to have one leg shorter than the other in order to enjoy your home.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Born Again Washstand

Dear Joe,

I have a lovely antique wash stand that I would like to turn into a vanity for my guest bathroom.  What do I need to do to make this work?  I have a friend who did it with an old dresser and I just love it so I went to the flea market and bought an old piece, cause I want one too.  Please help me because I don’t want to screw it up.



PS. I love your column.

Thanks Jen,

I am glad I can at least entertain and hopefully inform you with my little piece.

You know that’s a great idea.  I love to repurpose antiques. It gives them a second life and perhaps helps you to hold on to something that you might not otherwise have any need for and probably scrap or get rid of. 

I have done what you want to do a few times and have learned some things along the way.   The most important consideration to making this a usable piece of furniture in your bathroom will be height.   You want the height of the vanity top to be safe and practical as well as the height of the sink rim and faucet.  A comfortable height is between 29 and 36 inches depending on your height and whether or not there will be young children using it,  So your vanity top should be in that range.  You can shorten or extend the legs of the piece to optimize it for your comfort.

You have many choices when it comes to the type of sink and faucet you use, but again it all has to work together to provide a comfortable work space.  For instance, if you have a dresser that is 36 inches tall, then a drop in sink will not raise the effective height of the station.  But if your washstand is only 29 inches tall then you can opt for a vessel sink which stands 5 or 6 inches tall, and you will still be comfortable.  If you have smaller children, or are short of stature, then maybe a semi recessed sink would be a better choice only standing proud of the top about 3 inches.  When children are expected to use the sink regularly, a vessel sink is not a very practical option.  They do not put up with a lot of abuse as they are only attached to the cabinet by the brass drain pipe.  A semi recessed or drop in are much safer for kids.

The other major consideration is running the plumbing inside the cabinet to operate this new sink.  A standard rough in height for the drain is 18 inches.  Supply lines can stick out anywhere, wall, floor, high, low…You will need to calculate the optimal location for the pipes before you try to place the unit in its final location.  To do this, you need to know the height of the floor of the dresser, the height of all the drawers and the bottom of the top.  Now you can have your plumber relocate the pipes to protrude at the height of the top drawer allowing the p-trap to clear the bottom drawer.  A notch cut into the top drawer and boxed in will allow the drawer to remain functional for storing toothpaste and such whilst not interfering with the plumbing bits.

Once it is screwed to the wall and before you place the sink on, you will want to very substantially seal the wooden top with a high quality waterproof wood finish, or high build epoxy, to protect it from the constant moisture it is bound to endure. Another option is replacing the original wooden top with a custom cut granite or marble top. 


Whichever way you choose it makes a nice complement to your traditional home especially when paired with an old roll top tub and other antique finishes.

Keep making it beautiful

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Runaway Deck

Dear Joe,

I have a deck which we converted to a screened room off the back of my house.  The deck was here when we bought the house and we closed it in about five years ago.  Over the last couple of years I have noticed the deck begin to pull away from the house.  It has been getting progressively worse each spring.  I don’t know what to do to stop it or how I can fix it, or if I can fix it.  I would appreciate your insight on this matter before it comes completely off the house and falls down taking my nice screen room with it.



Quite a problem you have on your hands, Will.  This is one of those things that if not taken care of could significantly damage other parts of the house, so in order to mitigate the damage, we need to act quickly and repair the problem or at very least stop the worsening of it.

The first thing you’ll want to check out is how the frame was attached to the house in the first place.  This should tell you why it failed and then you can go about planning how to reattach it properly. 

Once you have ascertained the anchoring problem, the real trick will be getting the deck back into its original position to allow you reattach it.  Short of backing a truck or tractor into it, you will have to be patient and employ a system of jacks, or ratchets in concert with a few well-placed blows from a sledge hammer.  If this doesn’t work, then using a bit more horsepower may be your only option, but I am going on the record as saying I don’t advise it.  Chances are you will do more damage than good.  But if you use your tractor or such as a stationary object you can then jack against it thereby having maximum control over the manipulation of the deck.

Once it’s back in place, you’ll have to get under there and install all the necessary anchors and joist hangers that were probably left out the first time.  No less than 24” apart, preferably 16”.  Now while you’re under there, do a good visual inspection of all the framing members, the footings and the grading up to the house.  You can take this opportunity to true up the main beam by shimming at the footings or deck blocks, making the deck nice and straight again.  You’re down there now, might as well do it, unless of course you like crawling around in the dank dirty space under your deck.

This Counter's Tops

Dear Joe,

I want to replace my out of style ‘90s green countertop with something a bit more stylish.  I was hoping to upgrade to something more durable than laminate but cost is an issue.  Also my backsplash is tiled and was wondering the best/cheapest way to renew that too without the cost of tearing out the whole back wall and redoing it from scratch.  Any suggestions would be great. Thank You.


Well Liz,

Thank you for the great question.  Just replacing your countertop can give the entire kitchen a new lease on life.  I would also suggest freshening up your paint colour while you’re at it, with a colour that complements your new counter. 

Well, if you’re budget conscious, you won’t beat laminates for style, and affordability.  There are some gorgeous patterns being put out now which look like the most expensive natural stone tops at a fraction of the cost.  I would definitely suggest going that way.  You can liven up a plain laminate countertop with a solid wood or corian edge colored to compliment the rest of your kitchen.

As far as cost goes, expect to spend a minimum of five times the cost of laminate for any natural stone, engineered stone, quartz, concrete, and solid hardwood.  These are premium finishes which, and there’s no getting around it, carry a premium price, But having said that, there are deals to be had for the most careful shoppers.  

One way you can have the benefits of real stone is to install a stone tile in the place of your current counter.  Simply remove the old counter, install a sheet of ¾ “plywood and glue down your granite marble or slate tile.  A nice small grout line works best, and now you have a real stone countertop at about a quarter of the cost.  It won’t fool anyone into believing you dropped a fortune on the real thing, but you will get the look and all the benefits of working on a real stone work surface.

On your backsplash you have a couple of choices to hide the dated tile without the costly rip out.  You can tile over any previously tiled surface provided it is sound and clean.  Make sure you install the appropriate tile edge to finish it off.  You can also paint the tile if you use a bonding primer which will adhere to the glaze and allow you cover it with the paint of your choice.  Embossed tin, steel, or plastic panels can be glued right over top to add some old world charm on a shoe string budget.

Hole in the wall

Dear Joe,
How do you patch a large sized hole in drywall and make it smooth and look like the paint was done at the same time as the rest of the wall? 

Angela,   Port Alberni, BC

Sent via FaceBook.

Thank you for the great question.   First thing we have to know is how large is large.  Tiny is like a nail hole up to about ½” diameter, small is ½” diameter or larger, medium about the size of a doorknob or larger, and large would be bigger than a dinner plate.  Tiny holes can be filled with a couple coats of drywall compound or spackle applied smoothly and sanded.  No other steps required, just prime and paint.

Small and medium holes can be patched easily with a small piece of drywall  of any thickness.   First  square off the hole with a drywall saw.  Now cut a patch  2 – 3 inches larger than the hole.  On the back of the patch, scribe the dimensions of the hole with equal spacing all the way around.  Now cut the back paper along the lines, fold and peel off the gypsum core.  This should leave you with a patch the perfect size which has a paper flap all around the front.  Now you simply apply drywall compound around and inside the hole and apply the patch.  Large holes will require some bracing using a plywood strip along each edge.  Simply screw it to the back of the drywall and allow it to overhang by half.  Now cut a patch to fit inside the hole and screw it to the braces.  Now you can cut the patch in the same fashion as above with the paper flap or you can use drywall tape to mend the edges.
Now after the first coat has dried apply a second coat over the entire patch expanding out 8 -10 inches all the way around.  Third coat will be expanded out another 8 – 10 inches .  This is where the blending is really going to make the difference between the patch you can see and the invisible patch.  We can pretty well detect any deviation in the wall over 1/8” to the foot so keeping the patch tight with a lot of pressure on the trowel and using as little compound as possible is very important  and will result in a much cleaner finish.  Once everything is dry sand and be sure that you feather the patch around all the edges.   Do this by shining a light oblique to the wall. This will illuminate any high spots that will become apparent when the wall is painted.  Sand them smooth and wipe down the dust.
Now when you prime you want to expand out another foot or so all the way around.  Now your baseball sized patch has grown to about three feet but should be invisible if you have done everything right.
Painting is now straight forward provided you have some left over from the last time you painted.  If you do just paint two coats over your patch and you should be good to go.  If you don’t, then you will have to have more mixed to the same recipe as the old color.  The problem with that is the newly tinted color, even though the code is the same as the last, will not match the old paint exactly.  So to overcome this you will  have to paint the entire wall, from corner to corner.  The color will be close enough that you won’t be able to tell that it changes at the corner but stopping in the middle of the wall will leave obvious color, gloss, or texture differences.

Walls Come Down


I have a finished basement but would like to remove a couple of walls.  How do I know if a wall is load bearing.  I don’t want to do any damage to my house so I want to make sure that I don’t take out anything important.  Thank you for your advice, I enjoy reading your column each week.



Dear Joe,

Thank you for your support and I appreciated loyal readers like yourself.

If you are unsure a wall is carrying any structural load then you have already done the right thing: don’t touch it until you`re sure.  How to find out requires a bit of knowledge,  a bit of exploration and a bit of common sense.  Once you know what to look for and understand the way buildings are constructed you can easily identify most load bearing structures, be they walls, posts or other structural members.  In your circumstance, this is probably the easiest one to do.   Basements, generally, are wide open spaces when the house is constructed.  One main beam runs down the centre, dividing the house in two lengthways, carrying the load of the main floor and all loads carried by the main floor.  Since this main beam runs from foundation wall to foundation wall, its span is usually supported at two or three points, depending on the length of the house, by jackposts or piers which stand on concrete footings poured at the same depth as the foundation footings.  These are what hold the house up.   So a safe generalization can be made of most houses:  any wall which runs the length of the house roughly down the center, though not load bearing itself, will typically conceal two or more jackposts.  Typically basement walls are built around jackposts so you may find the wall you want to remove was built around a solid object which cannot be moved.  One way to know for sure is to do some exploratory drywall removal.  By cutting a band of gyproc  eight inches wide by the length of the wall, you will reveal all the mechanical and structural features which are concealed inside the wall.  Once you know, then you can go about planning which walls to remove and which must stay and where concessions can be made to leave part of a wall and remove some. 

Another way to go about exploring without doing any visible damage to the wall is with a flexible inspection camera.  Essentially arthroscopic diagnostics for houses, these cool little gadgets can sneak in through a hole the size of your finger and see everything inside the wall cavity.  Simply pop off a baseboard the length of the wall in question, with your stud sensor identify the location of every stud in that section of wall, drill a ¾” hole between every stud where the baseboard will conceal them once reinstalled, and inspect each space side to side and up.  You can rent one of these babies at your local rental location.

I hope this has been enlightening for you.  If you find yourself still unsure or have further questions, contact your favourite contractor.  They should be more than happy to give you a moment of their time and help you figure out the important information you are looking for and maybe make suggestions that will help you chart a course toward a successful renovation.

The Decking Debate

Dear Joe,

I am planning to build a new deck this summer.  I am not sure though, what kind of material I should build it out of.  I like the idea of the plastic boards but it sounds as though it’s quite a bit more expensive than wood.  What should I know before buying the stuff to build my new deck?  Thank you for your help.  Love your column,


Thanks K,
I am glad you like reading it, because I love writing it.
I also love building decks.  But when you talk about decking material, if you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different answers.   The first thing that you’ll need to know, and there is no argument here:  The structure of your deck will be pressure treated lumber…no question.  It will not be seen but will need to endure the most hardship of any other part of your deck,  damp, dirt, insects and heavy loads will all be factors that will wear and tear on the structure of the deck so it will need to be durable and imperious to the elements, pressure treated is that.

On top of that, you have choices for decking.  We’ll talk price first.  From least to most expensive you have: pressure treated, cedar, wood vinyl composite, and exotic woods.  Don’t even consider untreated spruce or pine as they lack the preservative qualities of the others. 
As far as longevity goes, the woods, properly maintained will have a life expectancy of between 15-30 years depending on the conditions in which they serve.  They should be retreated every five years or so to get the most out of them.  But no matter how well you maintain the decking, the service life of it will be dictated by the service life of the structure.  That being said, although the vinyl composite will have a service life of up to 50 years(though since it hasn’t been around for 50 years there is no proof of that, and this commentator has his doubts), its serviceability again will be dictated by the longevity of the pressure treaded structure underneath it all.  And yes, the composite also requires a pressure treated lumber frame as dimensional lumber with which to build the frame is not available in composite because of price and also the fact that it is not rigid enough to build anything out of.  It is only suitable for decking and trim, not loadbearing components.

Solid wood is the best and most versatile material with which to build anything.  People have been building with wood for thousands of years.  And though companies are always trying to develop a superior product, in my opinion, wood has yet to be outdone.  Its price, durability, rigidity, flexibility, renewability and workability make it make it my first choice when doing decks of any size or shape.  The only drawback that pressure treated lumber has, is its colour…that charming grey/green is limiting when you want to design a colour scheme for the outside of the house.  But, the idea of saving thousands whilst building with better material is often enough to get past the colour and if you’re really not happy with it, you can paint it or stain it after a couple summers once the moisture content has dropped to an acceptable level.