Renovation & Design



Brandi Johnson:

Seal up your home

Renovation & Design

If you have home concerns, contact the builder

Question: Is it normal for a brand-new house to have one section of steel beam out by about 1/8-inch on a four-foot level? Also, there are five long cracks in star shapes in the basement concrete right underneath it, compounded by the fact the hardwood floor is squeaking in some areas, despite using engineered joists.

Please advise whether this is a structural issue, or not.

— Thanks, Jimmy Yu

Answer: Some movement and cracking in the concrete basement floor slab is normal in a home, even newly constructed. But your other issues may be a concern. Calling the builder, if your home is protected by a new-home warranty, is the first step to repairing any such problems. While they may not always own up to the defects, contacting the warranty company to put in a formal claim may be one way to ensure you are not stuck with costly repairs after the one-year portion expires.

Because of our expansive clay soil, it is very common to see hairline cracks forming in a newly poured basement floor slab, even in the first year or two. If these are small and not unevenly raised on either side, there is not much to be concerned with. If they are wider than around two or three millimetres, or are raised substantially on one side higher than the other, then there may be some concern. Other than the cosmetic appearance and a slightly uneven floor surface, there should be nothing to worry about. Most floors will crack around the base of basement teleposts or over top of embedded plumbing drain pipes, due to the slightly thinner concrete in these areas.

Measuring a main beam in a home with a spirit level, even a four-foot-long one, may not give you an accurate reading of the condition of the floor structure. If you happen to place it on a section of the beam that is slightly wider or narrower than the surrounding sections, it will appear to be out of level. The only accurate way to gauge this will be with a transit level, laser level, water level or other measuring device that can take accurate readings of the entire length of the beam. Slight imperfections, even as noticeable as you are seeing, may cause minor unevenness in the floor structure but may not be noticeable if the overall beam is level, especially at the ends. Hiring a contractor or surveyor to check this out may be warranted if you can physically see bumps or dips in the steel beam over top of each post with the naked eye. If it is found to be out of level significantly, slow, careful adjustments may be made in the threaded portion of the teleposts to correct the problem.

If the beam is found to be straight and level, overall, then there may be little concern over whether there are any significant structural defects. If any of the main-floor interior doors are rubbing on their jambs or the floor, any noticeable bumps or dips are seen in the floor itself, or if there are any cracks in the walls or ceilings, then action may be necessary. Newly constructed homes should have nothing more than minor movement-related issues, so repairs or adjustments may be required if any of these defects are noted.

Squeaky flooring can be caused by uneven floor joists or subflooring, but that is not the most likely cause. Because hardwood flooring is typically installed with a thin paper underlay, it can bridge very small inconsistencies in the substrate without any noticeable problems. If there are larger imperfections, then the condition of the flooring may be a clue. If the floor structure is moving, uneven, or has physical bumps and dips, there may be visual details that are noticeable. The individual planks may separate, slightly, especially at the ends of the boards. If you observe any unusual gaps or unevenness in the hardwood flooring, it may be evidence of movement in the floor structure underneath.

If the hardwood looks in perfect condition, but you are finding isolated squeaks, it is almost certainly due to a defect in installation.

Some boards may not have been properly fastened to the subfloor, with loose or improperly seated nails.

Alternatively, if construction debris was left on the subfloor surface while the hardwood was being put down, then there will be small gaps between the flooring and the subfloor, which could make noise when walked on. If there was lots of sawdust, drywall chunks, nails, screws, or other garbage not swept up properly before the flooring was installed, this could lead to annoying noises from the flooring.

The first order of business in any new home is to contact the builder when potential defects are discovered. Most home warranties will require the builder to fix these items up until the end of the first year of possession. It can be difficult to get the builder to return to the home to inspect these concerns, or even more difficult to get them to admit fault, but you must try.

A conscientious builder will send out a person to look at the issues and explain to you whether you have a defect or if it is a normal occurrence for a home in your area. If you don’t receive that kind of service, or don’t believe what the builder’s representative is telling you, then you must take the next step.

Minor defects like basement floor cracks or slightly uneven beams are normal parts of the aging process for a new home, but the other issues may indeed be a cause for concern.

If you don’t receive satisfactory call-back service from the builder, call the warranty company and ask for the procedure to make a claim for the perceived defects. If they simply instruct you to call the builder, insist on making a claim so that it is registered before the one-year portion of the warranty expires.

Even if the builder does not address the issues by that date, you should have some recourse if you have a prior written claim.

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

October 5

Renovation & Design

The secret to streak-free windows

Question: I am wondering what the secret is to really clean, shiny windows without any streaks. My home has a lot of windows and I have used vinegar and water to clean them, wet newspapers and commercial glass cleaner. They all do a great job of getting rid of dirt and bug marks, but no matter what kind of cloth or paper towel I use for the final wipe, the windows are quite streaky. Any advice you can provide for getting streak-free windows would be very much appreciated.

— Val


Answer: Purchase a good quality squeegee, a wet mop and a window scraper. You can also try this amazing window cleaner recipe: in a gallon-size spray bottle, mix one cup of rubbing alcohol and one teaspoon of cheap shampoo and fill the bottle to the top with water. Spray windows and scrub with a wet, window mop. Use a scraper to remove any dried-on bugs and leaves. Avoid cleaning windows when the sun shines directly on them. The sun will dry the windows too fast, which will result in streaks. Clean the water off the glass with a squeegee. Wipe the edges of the squeegee after removing water. Dry windows with either a good quality microfibre cloth or dry newspaper. Crumple it up and rub the windows until dry. For extra shine, put cornstarch in a bucket with water. Wipe windows and dry with a microfibre cloth or newspaper.

Question: I have asthma and am trying to make household cleaners out of products that do not have perfume. I recently made laundry detergent that seems to be very successful. I used washing soda, borax and soap granules but left out essential oils. I also made dish detergent (not dishwasher detergent) with much less success. I found the ingredients were highly perfumed, causing pulmonary problems. These ingredients were shredded Sunlight bar soap, Castile baby soap (not perfume free), Arm and Hammer washing soda and vinegar. I am looking for non-perfumed products to make dish detergent, but I’m not having any luck finding them in the retail stores. Can you help me with this problem? I also found the recipe I used did not make suds, and looking at a dishpan full of murky water is not pleasant. I did find Kirk’s bar soap online, but the cost is prohibitive.

— Donna

Answer: There’s no need to ever purchase dish soap again. This solution is not only easy, it is also very economical. Take slivers left over from your favourite scented, or in your case, unscented soap bars (Sunlight laundry bar soap will not work) and let them sit overnight in a jar of water. Shake the contents and add a few tablespoons to your sink water. As the jar sits over the next few days, the contents will thicken; add enough water once again to make the solution easy to pour. Lots of bubbles and great cleaning power.

Question: A friend has a new dryer and it has a sticky substance inside the drum of the dryer. How should she proceed to remove this sticky substance?

— Sandy

Answer: A very simple remedy is to dampen a dryer sheet and use it to wipe the inside of the drum. If you are opposed to dryer sheets, clean the drum with rubbing alcohol. If the mess is extremely gooey, wipe with peanut butter, then clean with soapy water.

Question: Help! I am making homemade perogies and as I boil them, they open. What am I doing wrong?

— Anthony

Answer: One of the most common culprits for perogy explosions is because the dough is stretched excessively after filling them. If the dough is forced to stretch beyond its limits, it will pop open when heated. Be careful not to overfill perogies as they will burst open when boiling. Only fill them as much as possible while still being able to seal edges easily, and take the time to seal edges well. Boil water and remove perogies as soon as they float to the surface or at about seven minutes.

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 is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:


Reena Nerbassolutions 
October 5

Renovation & Design

Assorted advice to make autumn yardwork less yucky

After carving a pumpkin, spray the inside with 50/50 bleach and water to slow down the formation of mould.

Stuff wet boots and shoes with dry, crumpled-up newspaper. The ink in the paper will absorb the moisture and any odours.

Before cleaning out the gutters, attach a long, bendable PVC pipe to a shop vacuum. In many cases, you will be able to clean the gutters without standing on a ladder and risking injury.

Raking leaves onto a tarp can make fall cleanup much easier. When the tarp is full, pick it up and dump the contents into a garbage bin.

Mulch leaves by grinding the matter into bits — this will reduce the size of your cleanup load, and you will be left with compost material or garden fertilizer. If you do not wish to vacuum the shredded leaves, you can let them sit and feed the soil. If you have oak trees, rake the leaves, because oak leaves decompose slower than maple or elm leaves.

To remove tree sap from hands, wipe them with rubbing alcohol.

To remove tree sap on clothing, wipe the area with mayonnaise. Spot-clean with Dawn dish soap and water. Launder as usual, and air dry to ensure the spot is not visible.

Regularly clean bird feeders by soaking and scrubbing the feeders with 50/50 vinegar and water.

Clean dirty hands after yardwork by scrubbing them with fresh coffee grounds and cooking oil. The dirt will disappear, and your hands will feel soft.

Protect metal patio furniture by applying a thin coat of car wax over the surface to prevent rust.

Protect outdoor plumbing fixtures by purchasing slip-on pipe fittings available at hardware and department stores.

Experiment to see if your deck needs resealing. Pour water onto the surface; if the colour changes to dark and the deck absorbs the water, the deck needs resealing.

This is a great time of year to wash or repaint the exterior of your entrance doors. This is the first impression your guests have when they visit.

Clean out recycling and trash cans before winter. The smell is often unbearable, and they should be kept as clean as possible.

Check out your roof from the ground level. Use binoculars to get a closer look, or if you are able and can do so safely, climb on up for a better view. Look for missing, damaged, or loose shingles. If your roof is flat, you may need to remove leaves and debris.

Trim trees, bushes, shrubs and other plants in your garden. Check them all, and if necessary, trim them back. Look for any trees that may be getting too close to power lines or your roof, which may cause damage.

Have a great suggestion or tip? Please send an email at:

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 is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:


Reena NerbasSOLUTIONS 
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Renovation & Design

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Renovation & Design

Keep the pipes above zero, especially in winter

Question: I have an alcove in the kitchen that overhangs the outside of the back wall. Ever since I replaced the flow-form countertop with a quartz countertop, I’ve had a problem in the winter with the dishwasher water-supply line freezing. I was wondering, would putting styrofoam insulation under the overhang solve the problem? Thanks.

Claude Lambkin

Answer: The freezing of water lines installed in unheated spaces, like your cantilevered floor, is often a problem in our climate. Reinsulating the area is the likely solution, but your proposed method may not prevent a reoccurrence. Opening up the area will be required to diagnose the issue and allow proper installation of insulation and adequate warm airflow.

Water-supply piping, especially copper pipes like yours, are quite susceptible to freezing in cold areas of our homes. This is often seen in basements, where water pipes may be buried inside insulated walls built up against foundation walls. This can be an issue when basement walls are framed and insulated after possession of the home. Many homeowners don’t know they should not insulate over top of the pipes. Doing so can prevent warm air from the home from warming the cold pipes, while the insulation wrapped around can actually keep the pipes colder for longer periods. This can also be a problem when water pipes are installed inside cantilevered floors, like in your kitchen-overhanging alcove.

Because the cavity in between the floor joists underneath your kitchen cabinets overhangs the foundation, they are exposed to colder winter temperatures from outside the home. To prevent this area from being too cold, it must be insulated to prevent heat loss. Unfortunately, insulating this area is tricky, because of the limited space. To properly protect this cavity, it must have sufficient insulation at the bottom, sides and end of the cavity, while maintaining the continuous air/vapour barrier from the basement insulated walls below and the exterior wall above.

The only practical way to achieve this is by using rigid extruded polystyrene insulation and sealing the corners and joints, or installing sprayed-on high-density polyurethane foam insulation. Because your home is older, the cavity may be partially stuffed with fibreglass batts, which does not maintain the air/vapour barrier, but improperly fills the cavity top to bottom. Because of this, some warm air may infiltrate this cavity, but it will lose its heat energy as it makes its way into the fibreglass insulation. If it is really cold outside, this can cause condensation and ice formation. If it is relatively well air-sealed, condensation and moisture will not be an issue, but not enough warm air will penetrate the overhanging area to prevent frozen water supply pipes from occurring.

Installing a sheet of extruded polystyrene on the underside of the overhang may not be a bad idea, but will not be a complete solution. While this is one proper area for this good product, it will not provide total insulation coverage, or improve the air-sealing issue. More importantly, it will not help warm the cavity, but may only serve to prevent very minor heat loss. To properly achieve this, the cavity will have to be opened. This could be done from the exterior, by removing the covering and sheathing under the cantilever, or from the basement below. It may even be possible to evaluate and remediate the problem by partial removal of the kitchen cabinet bottoms, but that may be more difficult to fix afterward.

Once the area is opened up, the location of the problematic water pipes can be seen and any or all of the existing insulation removed. At that point, it can be determined whether rigid foam or spray-on foam is the most practical solution, or if the pipes may need modifications to allow for its installation. The inside perimeter of the cavity can then be properly insulated and air-sealed and the pipes installed in the open space between. It may be best to do this work from the basement, as the existing ceiling adjacent to the area will have to be opened anyway to allow warm air from the basement to infiltrate the newly insulated cavity, to prevent further frozen pipes.

You should know energy flows from an area of high energy to one of lower energy, so heat is escaping the floor structure to the colder exterior, not cold entering from outside. So, rather than trying to fix the problem from the exterior with a single sheet of extruded polystyrene, the focus should be on a better repair, allowing heat from the home in to warm the cantilevered area. Maintaining good airflow and a temperature at or slightly below the room temperature should ensure the pipes never get cold enough to freeze, even on the coldest days. This can only be accomplished by insulating and air-sealing with foam dense enough to prevent heat loss, while ensuring air leakage is at a minimum, to prevent condensation.

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 
September 28

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