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