Renovation & Design

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

Renovation & Design

Regrading is best bet to prevent pooling water

Question: I’ve been reading your column in the Free Press for a while now and appreciate all your advice and guidance. I have a bit of a similar situation to that addressed in an older article you wrote, about a void under stairs. I have water pooling under these concrete stairs, which came in after all the wet weather. Now the water is going across my foundation and finding its way to a couple of window wells, which are plugged, of course. It is leaking in there and from my chimney clean out, as well.

Is using mudjack material to fill the void a good alternative to shovelling in quarter down?

I appreciate any insight, as Google doesn’t offer any solutions, Greg Fast

Answer: Filling in eroded or shrunken soil under older concrete steps should work to prevent foundation seepage, no matter what is used for the fill. As long as the top of the fill is well above the surrounding grade it should prevent water from pooling in that area and sitting up against the concrete foundation wall.

Having written many times about the need for proper grading to prevent moisture intrusion into a foundation, I am not sure what exact recommendations I proposed in the noted column. I am sure that it was suggested that filling in any depressions adjacent to that area, especially underneath stairs, was critical. Any voids under older concrete stairs, porches, patios, or additions are particularly important because they are typically hidden from view. While it may be easy to see standing water, from a heavy rain or melted snow, collecting in uncovered areas, the opposite is true in these locations. Moisture may collect and remain in large amounts in any hidden voids, and can take a long time to disappear, due to the lack of airflow for quick evaporation. Any water sitting against an older concrete foundation wall is likely to find its way through.

Preventing pooling water, and oversaturated soil, in any location adjacent to your home may be accomplished by simple regrading. Building up the grade, so that a gentle slope is created away from the foundation, is the trick. Because water will flow to low areas, either through or above saturated soil, regrading is critical. The opposite is also true, that water will not collect in higher locations, especially if there are no impediments to good drainage. The area under your stairs will have neither of these positive qualities, so upgrading will be required to prevent your problem from reoccurring.

To access that hidden area, partial excavation outside the stairs is likely the initial step. Digging a small trench beside the stairs, large enough to look underneath, will give you a good idea how bad the issue is. Shining a flashlight, or trouble light, into the cavity will help determine how much lower the soil is than the surrounding area. Once that is known, measurements can be made to figure out how much fill will be required to correct the situation. Enlarging the trench will likely be required, to allow better access for shovelling in material into the small cavity. As you have stated, granular fill is easier than soil to keep in place, so quarter down, pea gravel, sand, or mixed gravel is often the choice for this job. While soil of similar composition to the surrounding area may be a better choice, it can be difficult to obtain and manually shovel in our local clay-based soil into that space.

Your alternative of filling the void under your front steps with the same material used for mudjacking may be a good option, but will likely be much more costly. That specialized expanding soil can be fairly expensive to produce and pump under the stairs. While it may give you a superior product, which should be resistant to shrinkage and moisture absorption, it comes at a cost. The main benefit would be that you could hire a company to complete the entire installation. That would save you a significant amount of hard labour. If you are planning on hiring a contractor or landscaper to do the job, anyway, the additional cost of the mudjacking slurry may be the only difference. The other concern would be any possible disruption to the foundation, stairs, or surrounding components, due to the strength of that material. Since it is used to lift concrete slabs and other heavy components, care must be taken not to overfill the void and cause additional pressure, or physical damage, to any of the items noted.

The final areas to address are the window wells, chimney clean-outs, and other locations where the seepage is occurring. Filling in under your front steps may help prevent this from happening, but may not be the complete cure. Digging down to seal the old chimney base under ground will likely be needed to prevent further leaking in that location. Also, lifting up and securing the window wells to the foundation, if they have settled, as well as regrading inside and around them may also be a requirement. Shovelling built up snow away from the foundation next winter and spring may also help stop next year’s water infiltration.

Hiring a contractor to pump in expanding clay into the void under your stairs may be a viable, but costly, solution to your moisture issue. Especially if it is done in conjunction with other regrading and water-proofing improvements at the window wells and chimney. Otherwise, any fill that will eliminate the void and remain well above the grade outside the stairs should also help minimize future seepage.

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 7

Renovation & Design

An awkward union

Marc LaBossiere
April 30

Renovation & Design

Changing the game

Colleen Zacharias
April 30

Renovation & Design

Adding new siding over old a viable solution

Question: I just read one of your excellent posts and have a question that I can’t get a clear answer to. I have an old waterfront cottage from the 1940s, which takes a beating from the sun, sand and wind. It is not insulated in the floor or ceiling, so is only used May to October. The interior walls were wide open, so you could see the back side of the tongue and groove pine siding, with no other backing material.

We installed all new windows, and had the walls spray foamed, to seal all gaps and add rigidity to the structure. We scraped and painted the outside twice, but it simply peels off and will not stick to the 80 years of paint. In places it comes off to expose bare pine. So, we now want to re-side the cottage and would prefer to use a clap board, or some sort of wood-look siding. The pine is flat tongue and groove and I’ve been told we can put vinyl directly over the existing, but not wood.

Because the windows are new, we don’t want siding to stick out farther than the windows, which would happen if we first apply strapping. Are you aware of any products that look like wood that could be installed directly over the pine without strapping? I also want to confirm that I should use a Tyvec material first. I don’t want the old pine to rot, over time. Because it’s sealed with foam on inside, I assume it needs to breathe, somewhere. Thank you for your help,

Dave Twining

Answer: The main concern with applying new siding over older material is to ensure that it drains properly, doesn’t cause damage to any of the other components, and prevents leakage at the windows and doors. This should be possible, but may still require building out brick moulds, sills, and extending flashings around doors and windows, and modifications to other areas of potential moisture damage.

Installation of new siding over older versions is a good way to improve the esthetics and minimize the maintenance for any building. As you have discovered, repainting older siding can require a major effort in preparation, for a result with limited life expectancy. While that may be the lowest cost option, if you have to do it every few years, there is little long-term benefit. Applying a new layer of modern siding can yield a result that will last for decades without the need for remediation. It is sometimes less effort to remove the old siding prior to upgrading, to access any damaged sheathing or other components below. Also, that will allow installation of upgraded thermal insulation and minimize modifications to current window and door frames. Because you have already spray-foamed the wall cavities from the inside, that is not only unnecessary, but would be very difficult to do without damaging the insulation.

One benefit to the method of construction of your cottage, with only the siding used as exterior sheathing, is that it was open on both sides and able to easily dry after any wettings. That would prevent rot and deterioration due to trapped moisture, both on the interior and exterior sides of the wall. So, the outside siding is not only acting as a weather barrier for the building enclosure, it is also the exterior wall sheathing. As such, it should be possible to secure fasteners for new siding directly to it. Since it will be covered, there is no longer any aesthetic considerations for banging in hundreds of nails into the surface. The only consideration would be if sections are moisture damaged and not strong enough to support the new siding and fasteners. If that is the case, installing another complete layer of thin plywood sheathing, properly secured to the wall studs and the old siding, would remedy that situation. Even 12mm plywood should provide a secure enough substrate for the siding nails, while adding minimal thickness to the walls.

Either way, complete building wrap, or building paper, must be installed beneath any new siding. That is to prevent any moisture that penetrates the siding from leaking into the wall sheathing or cavity, and will allow the back face of the siding to properly dry. It will also provide a proper air barrier to the wall assembly. It may also provide a smoother surface than the old siding for measuring, leveling and chalking lines for the new wall covering.

Despite your desire not to modify the newly installed windows, care must be taken to prevent leakage or damage due to the added thickness of the new siding. Even if you are able to nail directly into the old pine for support of the new material, you may still have to build out the frames around the windows and doors. Especially at the top of those areas, new flashing may have to be applied and caulked to prevent leakage. Many types of modern siding provide these details in their instruction manuals, to make proper application easier. While there are several options, like vinyl siding, some of the best quality products that mirror older wood grains and styles are cement-board sidings. These are often applied similar to older wood lap siding, but have very durable finishes that should last for decades, even in a harsh lake climate.

Nailing directly into the older pine siding on your cottage may be possible, after application of proper building wrap, but will still require some other considerations. Modifications to existing doors and windows may still be required, even if another layer of strapping or sheathing is not.

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
April 30

Renovation & Design

Make perfect caesar salad — every time

Question: I love the taste of restaurant caesar salad. When I make it at home, I never know how much salad dressing to add to the lettuce. If I add too much, the croutons become soggy. If I add too little, it lacks flavour. Any suggestions?


Answer: While there is no set standard measurement of dressing-to-lettuce ratio, the general guideline is one-half cup dressing for a single size head of romaine lettuce. Each leaf should have some dressing, but too much dressing will leave you with soggy croutons and lots of fat. When it comes to croutons, make sure that you add them just prior to serving. Another chef’s trick is to serve caesar salad in a wooden bowl. Remove the skin from a clove of garlic and rub the clove along the inside of the bowl. This adds flavour to the salad.


Question: Is there any way to clean cat urine off a silk duvet? I understand silk duvets are not to be washed or dry cleaned. Thank you for any help with this problem.


Answer: It is true that high heat and domestic washing machines can damage the beautiful and strong properties of silk fibers. For this reason, it is important to refer to the care label instructions. If the instructions direct you to dry clean the product, contact a variety of dry cleaners to locate a company experienced with caring for silk duvets.


Question: I have frosted glass in my pantry door. The one side is plain glass, but on the inside, it is frosted. I cannot seem to get normal, everyday; kid spills off the inside of the door (chocolate milk for instance). Any suggestions? David

Answer: I would apply a small amount of smooth peanut butter onto the chocolate milk, leave it for five minutes and scrape it off, with a plastic putty knife or a green abrasive pad (not an S.O.S pad). Then clean the glass in the usual manner with either my Squeaky-Clean Window Cleaner Recipe or a super-duper solution that works best for you!

Manitobans respond

Re: Removing butter tarts from the pan

The easiest removal of butter tarts and no mess cleanup are the Paperchef parchment baking cups. No mess. No losing half your muffins, amazing. — Agnes

Regarding removing butter tarts cleanly from the pan. I often use nonstick foil instead of regular foil and sticking is no problem and there is no added fat. — Mavis

Re: Ripening bananas

Hint: speed up soft bananas for baking. Put bananas in the freezer for at least 24 hours; remove and defrost in the microwave when required. You get soft bananas for baking, and extra moisture in your baked goods! Works great for delicious banana bread, in a Bundt pan. — Lynne

Soft Skin Solutions (try saying that five times, fast)

Bee Natural Hand Lotion Recipe: Into a double boiler melt 4 oz. sweet almond oil and 1 oz. beeswax. Remove from heat and add 2 oz. water and stir well. Add 10 drops Vitamin E and 10 drops of your favourite essential oil such as lavender. Stir until cool. Pour contents into jars or metal tins.

My facial skin seems much softer now that I use a banana mask once a week. Mash up a banana and spread it on your face. Leave for 10 mins. and rinse. — Jamie

Whipped Body Butter Recipe

In a pot over medium heat melt together a half cup coconut oil and one cup shea butter. Mix in half cup jojoba oil and add 20 drops of your favourite essential oil. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and place in the fridge for two hours. When solid, whip for 10 minutes, until it looks like whipped cream. Store in an airtight container and use as you would use lotion. — Amber

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
April 30

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