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Bryan Baeumler – Inner (household) peace can be yours

It’s definitely interior renovating season. We’re in the middle of winter and it’s freezing cold outside. You don’t want to be out there or poking your head in the attic. Now is a great time to take an hour or two to walk around the house with the notepad and make a list of all those tiny things you want to fix or finish. Pretend you’re a customer going through a predelivery inspection of your new home. Then start banging them off one by one.

Hi, Bryan. First: Love your show. My problem is that I have a lot of cold air coming in during winter in the kitchen, along the floor near the sink, and in the living room along a wall that is an exterior wall. I am not at all handy. Would you know a company to suggest, in my area? Thank you.
Luc C., Ottawa, Ont.
Thanks for watching, Luc! The simple answer is that we have some Baeumler-approved contractors in Ottawa. Have a look at www.BaeumlerApproved.com.

The cold air coming in would suggest a couple things. Often kitchen sinks are on an exterior wall, and the plumbing and ventilation go into the insulation, whereas technically, they should be inside the wall, inside the warm space of the house, and go down through the floor of the basement. So if they’re coming through the insulation, the problem there could be that the vapour barrier isn’t sealed properly and you’re getting some air leakage and heat loss around there. That’s what might be letting the cold air in.

In the living room, along the wall that’s an exterior wall, the first thing I’d ask is: what kind of windows do you have? Are they updated or are they single-pane windows where you’ll get a lot of heat loss coming in? If they’re good windows, I’d then have a look at the baseboard and see if there are any cracks or gaps in it, allowing air to come in. If there are, you could seal that gap with some silicone caulking to stop the airflow. And that’s what I’d look at.
Hi, Bryan. My brother recommended I write to you. Our house is about 100 years old, a semi in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood. We are planning a basement reno but there are two issues: 1) Bricks in the basement wall at the front of our house seem to be disintegrating. We’re worried about water damage or a weak foundation. Can water proofing, or strengthening our foundation, happen from the inside or does it require work outside, too? 2) Our ceiling will end up just over six feet — do you advise digging down in a semi-detached home? Is there any risk to the adjoining neighbour?
Ann F., Toronto

Well, Ann, based on the age of the house, I highly doubt there’s a decent weeping tile around the house to direct water away from the foundation. I would guess, just from what I’ve seen of the Danforth area in homes of that age, that there probably isn’t a proper waterproofing membrane on the outside of the foundation.

So, moisture gets into those clay bricks and, certainly at the top part when it freezes, it’ll expand a little bit and start to disintegrate those bricks. Over time, the water going through those bricks into the basement of the foundation will cause efflorescence, which is minerals evaporating out of the water coming from the brick itself. And just the water flowing through the brick will slowly cause them to deteriorate. If they’re extremely damaged, they’ll have to be replaced. If it’s only minor surface damage, a mason can do a parch coat over top to contain the damage and stop it from progressing further.

However, if you don’t dig and waterproof the foundation properly from the outside, they will only continue to disintegrate. So that’s something you’ll need to take a look at. I would recommend calling a waterproofing or foundation contractor to take a look at that and see what they can do.

As far as digging the basement down, you mentioned it’s a semi. You might have seen in the papers that there was a house collapse not too long ago. It’s because the underpinning and digging were done incorrectly. When you dig the basement down and underpin, you basically dig a maximum four-foot section of each foundation, and then you pour a foundation wall and a footing underneath the existing footing. Bench footings are a little different — you would dig down and leave some soil up against it to hold the footing in place, then pour a large concrete bench against the footing.

The benefit of underpinning is you can go deeper without encroaching into the basement space. The bench footing, essentially, is a big concrete bench around your basement and it shrinks the size. In my experience, in your neighbourhood with that age of home, digging the basement out probably won’t get you the financial return that you want in the house.

So the answer is: There is a risk of damaging or even collapsing the neighbour’s home if the underpinning or the digging out of the basement isn’t done correctly. And the other risk is you’re going to spend a lot of money on it that you might not recoup when you sell the home, depending on how long you keep it.
Bryan, we have a seven-year-old home with a cold-storage area that runs beneath the wraparound porch — across the front of the house and also down the side. Can we insulate the cold-storage area? We’re concerned about storing certain items due to humidity. I hate the thought of having to build additional storage closets in the basement when there is so much available space beneath the porch.
Cindy L., Barrie, Ont.

All right Cindy, here’s the way to think about cold rooms: Your basement itself is considered a warm zone, where you’ve got a heat source, a vapour barrier, insulation, framing on the exterior wall and so on. In a cold area, or this area underneath your porch, the difference is that there should be an exterior door between the basement and the cold area, because that cold storage room is technically considered to be outside. It will be vented so that outside air flows in and out of that room.

If you want to temperature-control that room and make it part of the inside, heated house, there’s a few things to do. You’ll need to seal up any vents that allow any outside air in, and then insulate the exterior walls of that cold storage room. But you’ll also have to run an HVAC — meaning a heat run and an air return — into that space. You need it so that it gets airflow in there, takes care of moisture content in the air and heats the space effectively.
So it’s not just a matter of just slapping some insulation on the outside walls and storing things in there—you have to also have to make sure the space has heat and air conditioning.

Hi, Bryan. We sure enjoy your shows. We have a four-year-old home and have not had a kitchen backsplash installed. What should we do when we get to the outlets and switches for the lights? For the normal thickness of the porcelain tiles, do we need extenders or do we put the tiles under the outlets and then drill holes in the tiles to attach the outlets once again? Also, what do you recommend for finishing the start and ends of the tile?
Betty S., Delhi, Ont.

Hey, Betty! A backsplash is actually one of those projects that can really change the look of a kitchen. It’s a really great project for someone just dipping their toe into renovations. It’s a good, easy project to start with because it’s fairly simple to do. Of course, there are difficult levels of difficulty when it comes to doing a backsplash. I suggest you either rent or invest in an affordable wet saw, which is a small, industrial diamond-encrusted blade that spins with some water and will cut and shape the tiles.

For a backsplash, I’d pick a natural stone like a tumbled marble — it’s one of the easiest to install (and is what I chose for my first backsplash years and years ago). They also cut very easily and are simple to shape with a wet saw. The key here is to lay out the tiles to make sure that the most visible areas will have the largest tiles possible. You don’t want to start with a full tile on the backsplash and only end up with a tiny strip of tile when you get to the corner. You should adjust the tiles left to right, to give you the biggest possible pieces of tile remaining on either end.

When you get to the plugs and outlets, you’ll essentially want the tile to be cut around the box itself, but it has to go underneath it. A mistake a lot of people make is they cut the tile around the entire plug, but the plug has wings on the top and bottom. You want to make sure those wings are sitting on top of the tile, which will help hold the plug out so that you can put the cover plate on properly. You did ask if you should put the tiles under the outlets — the answer is yes, definitely.

The wet saw is a really effective way to make a notch in the tiles, so you don’t have to drill holes, but you can still get the screw through to attach the plug to the box.

Another good tip: before you do anything on the backsplash, make sure all the breakers are off for those outlets. If they aren’t, when you pull them out of the box and get in there with a wet sponge, you’re going to get zapped!
Regarding the finishing of the tiles, it really just comes down to what you like the look of. If you decide to go with a natural tile, there’s great edging tiles they make. Let the people at the tile supply shop give you some options and just pick the one that appeals to you.

Hi, Bryan. Just wondering if you give us some advice about our ceiling. The plaster is cracking and peeling away from the ceiling, and we are having a hard time finding anyone who can repair it. Another problem: this is in an entrance with an 18-foot ceiling height. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Richard B., Burlington, Ont.

OK, Richard! Let’s deal with that 18-foot ceiling height first. No matter what happens, this is not something you want to do from the top of a giant extension ladder. The best course of action here is to rent some scaffolding and set it up safely with a handrail to get up there to that height, and with a platform to work off of.

The plaster that’s peeling is the type that’s applied on top of the drywall — it’s a decorative, second layer of coating on the drywall itself. What I’d be concerned about is why it’s cracking. Typically, it’d be because there’s moisture coming in from above. The other reason might be extreme dryness. The best thing to do is get that scaffolding, climb to the top and have a good look at it. Make sure there’s no moisture coming through or leaks in the roof above. You’ll also have to scrape off any of the loose plaster that’s up there. You can even find guys who do plaster work. Take a look on www.BaeumlerApproved.com; there are companies there that do drywall and could come in to reapply that.