Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

All good with wood

Marc LaBossiere
November 21

Renovation & Design

Flexible sealant best bet for filling foundation gaps

Question: How is the garage floor attached to the house walls, or is it not? Is there a thin space between them? What material is the outside of the house made of, where is touches the garage floor?

I ask because I can see a small gap in the garage floor, near the house foundation, where the concrete is slightly pulling away, just a little. Is this normal? What is in this gap? I don’t want there to be any chance that an animal could get in. Should I pour in something to fill it, or is the floor not supposed to be attached to the wall?

I appreciate your help. I don’t have anyone to ask and I’m concerned.

Thank you, Jen Mackey.

Answer: A small gap between the concrete garage floor slab and the house foundation is normal, as they are adjacent but not typically connected. Filling the gap in is a good idea, as long as you use a flexible sealant that will allow further movement to occur without causing any other problems.

Attached garages are typically built with short foundation walls, known as grade beams, supporting the exterior walls, other than the one under the main house wall. These short foundation walls are normally supported by poured concrete piers, which extend far deeper into the soil, to prevent movement. The garage floor, however, is often the last component to install and is not often attached to the deep house foundation wall or the grade beams. This is done to allow for the garage floor to move, somewhat, without affecting these foundation walls.

Anyone who has owned a home in our area knows about the amount of potential movement in concrete slabs poured on grade, due to our expansive clay soil. For a garage floor slab there should be a well compacted granular layer beneath the concrete, but that is often not the case. Since the floor is poured not that long after the garage grade beams, builders are often reluctant to bring in heavy compaction equipment to ensure this base is really solid. Too much purposeful vibration could cause cracking or movement in the fresh concrete foundation, leading to serious structural problems. It is a good idea to wait several months before pouring the floor, but that is rarely possible due to typical construction schedules. So, most attached garage floors are poured over minimally compacted stone, often partially accomplished by construction traffic.

Because of this dilemma, especially in a winter build where the soil may be frozen most of the time, floor slab movement is a given. It is not unusual to see hairline cracks appear in a garage floor only months after completion. This is normally followed by some settlement or heaving in the next few years. Normal erosion of the backfill outside the house and garage foundations can also increase the amount of slab movement, if not regularly built up. So, if this large, heavy concrete slab was attached to the house or garage foundation walls it could cause some major cracks in those structures from the movement. It is much better to leave this "floating slab" independent of the concrete foundation walls.

Driving and parking heavy vehicles and equipment on the garage slab over many years may also have an effect on its stability. Especially in years when there is little precipitation, as in the past several summers, the soil under the floor and around the garage can dry out excessively. This will cause the clay to lose some of its structural integrity, allowing the floor to sink further. As this occurs, the floor may pull away from the foundation, leaving the small gap you are observing. This may have previously been filled with concrete, or some other material, which has also deteriorated.

Filling in this void is not critical, as it may decrease somewhat when the soil moisture is replenished. Since you are seeing this gap adjacent to the house foundation, which is the furthest from the exterior soil, it is less likely to decrease in size. So, filling in the gap may be a good idea to prevent pest intrusion and further evaporation of moisture in the soil underneath. Since the original concrete has not succeeded in filling the gap as things moved or deteriorated, using a different approach is warranted.

If the gap is less than about one centimetre wide, filling it with caulking should be the simplest approach. Ensure that the sealant is designed for exterior use, preferably designed specifically for concrete applications, before installing with a standard caulking gun. If the gap is larger, filling it first with a flexible foam rod should ensure your caulking does not all disappear into the void when applied. The main thing to avoid is installing any kind of filler that is not highly flexible, otherwise it will not last more than a short time and may improperly fill the space.

Your concrete floor in the attached garage should not be secured to the foundation wall of your home, to allow for normal settlement due to soil expansion and contraction. Filling the gap with flexible, exterior grade sealant from an easily sourced caulking tube should prevent pest intrusion and other minor issues.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba ( Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at

Ari Marantz
November 21


Renovation & Design

Clean your jewelry with this homemade concoction

Question: I was washing my hands and noticed that my wedding ring has become crudded up because I don’t take it off when I wash dishes. My jewelry cleaner is almost finished, and I got to wondering if there is a way to clean jewelry without using store bought cleaners? Marg

Answer: In the past I used toothpaste and a toothbrush to clean rings, until I was told by a jeweller that toothpaste is too abrasive. I now mix one teaspoon of Dawn dish soap, one tsp. of household ammonia and half a cup of warm water into a cup. Drop your rings into the solution and let soak for 10 minutes. Brush with a soft toothbrush and rinse with water. If you prefer not to use ammonia, you can opt for vinegar instead.

Question: A while back, you published a recipe for a taco seasoning mix. I made it several times, and really enjoyed it. I was wondering if you have a recipe for a chili seasoning mix. Thank you, Robert

Answer: Combine the following ingredients together: one-quarter cup chili powder, two tablespoons of cumin, one tbsp. onion powder, one tbsp. paprika, two tea spoons of garlic powder, two tsp. brown sugar, two tsp. salt, one tsp. oregano, one tsp. cayenne pepper, one tsp. mustard, half tsp. black pepper, quarter tsp. cinnamon and two bay leaves. Omit cayenne pepper if you do not like spicy food. Store in an airtight container.

Question: How can I soften a knitted sweater? Joan

Answer: The easiest solution for softening a knit sweater is to wash it as usual and then soak it for one hour in about eight litres of warm water and 1/4-cup of hair conditioner. Rinse and dry according to the care label. If you do not own conditioner, replace it with vinegar.

Question: I found a bag of large marshmallows in the back of my pantry and they are somewhat crusty. Can they still be used or softened, or should I just chuck them? Also, I made a cheesecake that required a pan of hot water to be added to the stove as it was baking. I used an aluminum 9x13 pan, and now the pan has turned black from the water. Is there a way to clean it, and is it still usable? Thank you for your help. Bertha

Answer: It does not take long to soften a bag of marshmallows. Seal the bag well and hold the bag under running water, or set the sealed bag in a bowl of hot water for five minutes to soften them.

The easiest method for restoring the aluminum pan is to spray it with oven cleaner in a ventilated area, wait 15 minutes and scrub it with a non-scratching abrasive pad. A combination of lemon juice and baking soda is another option, but this combination requires additional time and scrubbing.

Note: Every user assumes all risks of injury or damage resulting from the implementation of any suggestions in this column. Test all products on an inconspicuous area first. Please send Reena an email if you have a great question, suggestion or tip.

Reena Nerbas
November 21

Renovation & Design

Winter bedding roundup

Katie Laughridge
November 21

Renovation & Design

Gardening in the heart

Colleen Zacharias
November 21

Renovation & Design

Don't hide your leather -- shine it

Question: I need your advice about how to clean body oils from a leather chair. Also, when you advise about using vinegar in your household solutions, are you referring to the double-strength solution? Regards, Evelyn

Answer: Whenever attempting to clean leather, you should always test cleaners on an inconspicuous area first. Over the years, readers have had great results getting rid of stains on leather by using one of the following: non-bleach, non-gel toothpaste; shaving cream, hairspray, Goof Off, Goo Gone, Sunlight bar soap, mosquito repellent containing DEET, saddle soap, Windex, Calvin Klein Obsessions after shave or Axe Body Spray. Discontinue application if leather dye begins to fade. For regular cleaning use the product recommended by the manufacturer. Another favourite leather cleaner and renewing product is Urad (available on-line). You can also use a small amount of dish soap and water on a damp cloth, which is what I use.

Yes, I am referring to regular strength vinegar, between four to seven per cent acetic acid. To get rid of weeds outside, the higher the concentration of acid, the more effective.

Question: How do I get rid of stains on napkins. They are white polyester Christmas napkins that have been washed and dried in the dryer. Dianne and Bill

Answer: Polyester is my favourite fabric as it is tough as nails! Since the napkins were dried in the dryer, the easiest, fastest and cheapest solution is to fabric dye the napkins. Choose any colour including white dye and follow the instructions on the box. Fabric dye may be purchased at some dollar stores, departments stores and craft supply stores. Another option is to boil the napkins for five minutes in a stainless-steel pot with a half cup of washing soda and eight-cups of water. Fabric safe bleach products are also an option.


Question: I have some dish rags that have become stiff and almost sticky, this may be caused by a build-up of fabric softener and I have tried soaking and washing them in vinegar and water with no laundry detergent. This hasn’t made a difference. Got any ideas? When I wash dishes with them even the dishes look greasy. Beatrice

Answer: This usually happens when the drying time is too slow. For example, if the clothes are hung to dry, they tend to become hard. The other reason this occurs has to do with the dye or fabric used in manufacturing. Try to choose cloths that are domestic rather than imported. North American products under many circumstances have been proven to be higher quality and should remain soft as long as they dry quickly. Boil the dish cloths in vinegar using a stainless-steel pot for five minutes, launder as usual.


Question: What can I do to stop myself from getting shocks as I walk across my carpet? Lorne

Answer: Start by checking the humidity level in your home, in fact you may want to invest in a humidifier. For a quick solution fill a spray bottle with one part liquid fabric softener and four parts water and lightly mist the carpet.


Note: Every user assumes all risks of injury or damage resulting from the implementation of any suggestions in this column. Test all products on an inconspicuous area first.


Reena Nerbas 
November 14

Renovation & Design

Heating seasonal property not always necessary

Question: I was wondering if it’s advisable, or not, to leave a vacation home unheated during the winter months. It is well insulated and finished inside with drywall and knotty pine flooring and some stone tile. The water has been turned off and the plumbing fixtures have been winterized.

Thank you for your time, Fred Battistuzzi.

We have an older home in south-central Manitoba, which is approximately 100 years old, which we only use during the summer months. The house has a poured concrete foundation, which is less than 20 years old. We drain the water lines each fall. Is there any reason to keep even a little heat on during the winter?

Leonard MacWilliam

Answer: Leaving the heat off in a seasonal building in Manitoba is possible and is done quite often by many cottage owners. There may be some negative consequences, depending on several variables within the building. Only actual trial and error will tell you whether these will be significant or not.

Turning off the heat in any building for an extended period of time in our harsh Canadian winter can lead to problems. That is because there are several items in the summer home or cottage that may be adversely affected by the dramatic changes in temperature and humidity. Plumbing fixtures, supply and drains are the most critical components, as they can become damaged if left with water inside. Because water expands when it freezes, filled pipes may freeze solid if left undrained. They will then expand, likely crack, and then leak badly as soon as the weather warms above freezing in the spring.

This can be avoided by completely draining all the supply pipes, drains, water heater, faucets and other fixtures and blowing out residual water with an air compressor. If your seasonal building was properly designed with all the supply pipes sloped to an exterior drain or valve the compressor may not be required. Also, all toilets and drain traps should be filled with plumbing antifreeze to prevent damage to these parts which require liquid to prevent sewer gas intrusion. It appears this is already in place in both homes in question, so should not be an issue in either case.

Most often, wall and ceiling coverings can be the next biggest concern when it comes to damage from the cold, dry weather. The type of materials used for these areas will often determine if any damage will occur, but also the amount of moisture in the building at freeze-up is a factor. The amount of moisture that can easily be absorbed and released by a particular wall covering may determine the degree it is affected by being unheated for a long period of time. Some wall and floor coverings, like the pine in the one building in question, may be completely unaffected by freezing temperatures, as it easily will absorb and release moisture. This "breathability" will prevent expansion and contraction due to frozen water vapour, that can be stored in less desirable finishes, like painted plaster in the older home. Even drywall, and various types of wall and ceiling panels, can buckle or crack if the temperature drops while the interior of the building is too humid. This is particularly a concern in cottages in lake country, where the ambient air may be very damp.

Another concern with shutting down an enclosed building in the winter is condensation and frost buildup, which can lead to mould growth. This has the same factors at play as in the wall covering concern, but may manifest itself in other areas. Closets, cupboards, and other areas with limited airflow may be subject to increased condensation. This may be a result of trapped, damp air that has not had a chance to dry out before the harsh weather arrives. Storage of various items in these locations will only make the situation worse, as they can further prevent dryer air from accessing these areas. The solution to this situation may be to completely empty all the closets, drawers and cupboards, or at a minimum leave them all open to improve airflow and allow trapped moisture or any condensation to evaporate.

How airtight the buildings are will be another factor to determine how much, if any, damage is done by turning the heat off for the winter. While air leaky walls, windows, attics, and doors may be very negative properties for a year-round home, it may be a benefit for this situation. If you have a lot of cold air intrusion, and exfiltration, in these areas it will prevent condensation issues inside the shuttered buildings. The older building in question may have these benefits, while the newer vacation home in question may not fare as well. In either case, additional ventilation may be required to prevent this issue from occurring. Leaving a fireplace flue open, bathroom exhaust fans running periodically, or even ceiling fans rotating slowly can help. Certainly, coming to inspect the buildings a few times throughout the winter, and letting some cool, fresh, dry winter air inside should help. This will also alert you to any obvious problems during your first winter shutdown, which could be nipped in the bud early, and low heating resumed if necessary.

Damage to building components are a possibility, due of lack of heating in a seasonal home. Taking measures to prevent condensation related issues is warranted, but only time will tell if they are serious enough to heat your properties year-round, or not.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba ( Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at

Ari Marantz
November 14

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