Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Heating ducts in concrete may present unique challenge

Question: I am hoping you can tell me how a repair can be made to the heat vents which are laid into the cement slab. I think this winter my house shifted in such a way as to crack a vent, which filled with water recently, after all this moisture. Needless to say, I was in shock, as I have had this house for 25 years and never had such a thing happen. Is this repairable? Thank you, Sandy Brow Thiessen.

Answer: Specialized repairs to heating ducts, especially those located in hard-to-access areas, may only be attempted by very experienced HVAC contractors. There may be several different methods for this repair, and only those with many years of direct experience will be the ones able to answer this question for you.

Repairing heating ducts embedded within a concrete floor slab may be a unique challenge, especially in our area. While there are a few older neighbourhoods where slab-on-grade homes were built, most houses have full basements or crawlspaces. The reason that slab homes are not common is due to our harsh winter and soil conditions. Because slab homes are literally built with the foundation on, or just above, the grade they are more subject to seasonal movement. Because of our extremely cold weather, our expansive clay soil may significantly swell in the spring, when the weather warms and the frozen ground thaws. This may vary from year to year, depending on the severity of the winter and the soil moisture content.

With a full basement concrete foundation, the footing support for the house is typically one to two metres below grade. While the soil outside the home may freeze this deep in a very cold winter, in some milder years it may not. The deeper the footing is, the less chance it will be affected by frost-related heaving, as the frozen moisture in the ground expands. Houses built right on grade, like yours, will have little protection from this movement. Also, if your grading is low around the house, moisture from rain and snowmelt will easily penetrate the soil underneath the perimeter of the home. The wetter the soil under this area, the more chances of seasonal movement of the home.

As you have recently experienced, excessive moisture from very snowy winters and heavy rainstorms may seep further underneath the concrete slab. While this may also be a major problem for homes with basements, they are equipped with a floor drain, and often a sump, to drain away any basement water. You probably don’t have any such mechanism in place to prevent the accumulation of water under the slab foundation. Unfortunately, embedding the heating ducts in the slab may have been necessary to install forced-air heat in our climate, but it can have very negative consequences.

While I have seen these older ducts with significant corrosion near the boots below the floor registers, specialized equipment would be required to fully investigate the condition of the entire duct system. This would likely begin with a scope of the ducts with a snake camera, often employed by rooter technicians and plumbers to inspect potentially damaged plumbing drain pipes. I suspect that your ducts may already have had some damage, simply from years of contact with the cold concrete floor slab and the soil beneath. However, most of this deterioration would have been hidden. If there are any areas that have major rust, holes, or damage, replacement would definitely be in order. There may be the possibility of installing a non-metallic liner inside the existing ducts, but I have no personal experience with such a system.

The main concern I would have with the recent flooding of your heating ducts, and possible pre-existing conditions, would be mold and other contaminants inside the ducts. If the water remains inside the ducts for more than a very short time, mold would likely begin to grow. It will use any dust, dirt, mouse droppings, or soil inside the ducts as a food source for the mold. By wetting this material, conditions would be ideal to support mold growth, with the byproducts able to circulate through your home via the HVAC system. This could be a significant health concern should anyone in your home be sensitive or allergic to molds. For that reason, I would immediately try manually removing the water, with a shop vac, utility pump, old towels, or any other method available. Once it is almost all gone, running your furnace blower continuously, and renting commercial dehumidifiers, will help dry the ducts further.

As far as removal and replacement of the ducts, that would present an extremely difficult challenge. The only way that would likely be possible would be by cutting the concrete floor slab, in several areas, and chopping out those sections. After removal, the damaged ducts could be pulled out and eventually replaced, once no more moisture was present under the area. After that, the openings could be filled in with new concrete, to patch the slab. This would have to be completed in a manner that would not compromise the structural integrity of the slab, which is the foundation of the house. Removal of too much concrete could subject the home to even more movement than usual. Hiring a structural engineer, prior to any work, would be a prudent choice to provide a plan for safe removal of any portions of the floor.

After getting the water out of the flooded heating ducts embedded in your home’s concrete floor slab, proper planning and experience by a professional structural engineer and very experienced, licensed HVAC contractor will be required. Only those professionals will be able to fully answer your questions, and devise a method for this extremely difficult repair.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)( Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at

Ari Marantz
May 14


Renovation & Design

Clean parka collar with baking soda and a stiff, damp brush

Question: The only part of my parka that needs cleaning is the collar, where my face/makeup has rubbed on it. How can I clean that without having to clean the entire coat? It is down-filled. Thanks, Anna

Answer: Dampen a stiff brush, and dip it into baking soda. Gently brush the collar, then wipe with water. Air dry.

Question: How can I get rid of sowbugs? We have several in our house every day. Thank you, Roger

Answer: Sow bugs typically show up in places where moisture and humidity are high. To find out where sow bugs are entering, look near, or inside, floor drains or nearby damp wood such as panelling or baseboards. Also, check underneath cardboard boxes.

Caulk openings and install weather stripping wherever needed. A perimeter pesticide spray may help break the cycle for a brief time but will not eliminate the problem permanently. Remember, if you do not solve the moisture problem, the bugs will return no matter which chemicals you use. You may reduce the population by sprinkling a small amount of diatomaceous earth, boric acid or borax and icing sugar around the house and in cracks (toxic for pets and small children). Also, note that damp or wet mulch will encourage insects, especially if it is not kept below the level of the building siding or stucco. Often pest control professionals suggest keeping mulch levels low around foundations. A dehumidifier and lots of proper ventilation help.

Question: Little bugs are getting into my kitchen drawers. Any solution, other than toxic sprays would be welcome. Thanks, Armin

Answer: Clean drawers with dish soap and water. Dry and then place bay leaves inside drawers, to keep bugs away.

Question: All of my mom’s clothing at her personal care home is labelled with her full name and room number. Some items are no longer suitable but in otherwise perfect condition. I am not comfortable donating these items with her personal information on the labels, but I am having a dickens of a time trying to remove the labels. Hope you have a solution! Celine

Answer: To remove the labels, begin by lifting a corner of the label and heating it with a hairdryer. This works well to loosen the glue, making it easier to peel the label off. If that doesn’t work, other useful products to remove gluey labels include citrus oil, rubbing alcohol, Goo Gone or, if you are desperate, WD-40. Spray the product onto the label and leave for 15 minutes then peel off the label. Afterward, soak the fabrics in dish soap and water to wash away the odour. Test all solutions in an inconspicuous area first.

Question: What is a dummy doorknob? Martha

Answer: Fake doorknobs that don’t have working parts. These are installed in areas such as French doors or small cabinets.

Interesting idea

I have switched from using dishwasher detergent to vinegar in my dishwasher. I pour one cup into the machine and run it as normal. May not work with all types of water but works well with Winnipeg water. Andy

Drill a hole in a wine cork and use it to close off open caulking tubes. Stanley

Easy salad dressing recipe

Keep a few ingredients on hand so that you can stir up homemade dressing without much notice. Blend the following until smooth: three tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup olive (canola or vegetable) oil, one tbsp. Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoons of minced garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and two tbsp. water. Pour onto lettuce. Add flavour to the salad by including baked, sliced almonds, red onion, and/or crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese.

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.

Have a great suggestion or tip? Please send an email. Reena Nerbas is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:

Reena Nerbas
May 14

Renovation & Design

Lemon juice and baking soda make dishes sparkle

Question: I own white dishes, and my bowls are stained on the insides from frozen cherries because I put them into the bowls until they are defrosted. How can I safely remove the cherry stains without using toxic chemicals? Marsha

Answer: Some people have great results by scrubbing each bowl with a scrubby pad dipped in lemon juice and baking soda. But when the stain is stubborn try the following recipe: In a large pot, combine three cups vinegar, four cups water and two tablespoons of citric acid. Heat, but do not bring to a boil. Set each bowl in the hot mixture for five minutes (the water must cover the dish). Once dry, your dishes should look brand new.

Question: What is the safest method for cleaning stuffed animals? I have a collection and some teddy bears are more than 10 years old. Thank you, Dana

Answer: Vacuuming teddy bears is the least risky way to clean them. However, wiping with a damp white cloth is one of the simplest and most effective ways to clean your teddy bears. For stubborn dirt, grime and odours you will have to resort to a stronger cleaning technique. Check the care label on your bear. To dry your teddy bear, never use the machine dryer. A better way to dry the teddy bear is with a hair dryer. If your teddy bear is an antique, avoid washing or cleaning the bear yourself. There are special establishments who specialize in restoring teddy bears. Another option is to place your teddy bears in a garbage bag with a half cup of baking soda. Shake to freshen. This will remove dust and stale odours, but it will not remove stains. To remove stains, use the wet cloth technique stated above.

Question: What is a safe solution for removing rust on my bike? A.J.

Answer: Make a paste of 50/50 baking soda and water. Apply the solution to the rust. Leave for about 15 minutes and then scrub. If the rust has eaten through several layers, you will need to sand and repaint.

Handy hints

I use make-up pads that come in a plastic “sleeve.” When I was coming towards the centre of the sleeve, I was having some difficulty grabbing the pad so, I came up with a solution to my problem, by pushing the pads towards the top of the sleeve/tube and twisting it and then tying it with a twist tie. Now the pads are once again at the top of the sleeve/tube, and easy to get at. I hope you will be able to understand my instructions. Kind regards, Anne Marie

Next time you make fajitas; add cooked pork, peppers, onions and seasoning to your baking pan. Next cook powdered onion soup and water on the stove. Thicken soup with cornstarch (the way that you would gravy). Add this to the fajita pan for great flavour and texture. Bake to heat. — Mary

To remove the peel from garlic cloves. I have the following tip: microwave a clove or two on high for about five seconds, then cut off the end and the peel will just slide off. — Joel

The easiest way to clean your oven. Pour one cup of vinegar onto the bottom floor of your oven. Sprinkle on a half cup baking soda. Leave overnight, wipe away in the morning. — Jessie

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.

Have a great suggestion or tip? Send an email. Reena Nerbas is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:

Reena Nerbas
May 7

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