Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Plank vinyl best bet for unheated, seasonal cottages

Question — I am hoping that your answer might resolve a question from which there appears much conflicting advice, from vendors and contractors. Many of those have not had to deal with older, unheated cottages. We want to redo our floors. What do you recommend for flooring for our old seasonal, unheated and un-insulated 70-year-old cottage? It is used only mid May to October long weekend. The cottage is located in Traverse Bay, Albert Beach, Victoria Beach area, which is sandy and marshy. The cottage is on steel beams and so it shifts every spring. We removed the old carpet, and the older sheet vinyl underneath, which fortunately had not been glued down. The floors are now down to the plywood, which is in good shape. What should we be using for new flooring? Sheet vinyl, glued or unglued? Laminate or luxury vinyl planks? Floating or glued? Would you recommend a subfloor? Should there be a buffer strip between rooms to allow for movement in the floor? The bathroom is high humidity, should there be another option for this room? Carpet is not an option. We have grandchildren and often have three dogs staying in the cottage, with sand often being tracked in. I thank you for you time and look forward to an answer.

Gisèle Champagne

Answer — Choosing the proper flooring for your summer home will require a decision based on the most durable and easily maintained option. While there may be other suitable types, plank vinyl may be the best decision for several reasons.

Installing new flooring in a seasonal building does provide some unusual challenges, mainly due to the temperature extremes it will be subjected to. Also, being in lake country the relative humidity may be very high all year round, adding another factor to your decision. Any floor covering you choose should be very durable to withstand the rigours of foot traffic, which may also track in excessive amounts of dirt, dust, and sand at your cottage. Easy cleaning should be a priority, for this same reason.

In previous decades, you may have had few choices for flooring in a building that was to be closed for our long, harsh winters. The low temperatures could affect many types of flooring and adhesives, due to contraction of these materials when the weather cools. Low cost, low pile carpeting was a good option due to the ability to hide sand and dirt. Unfortunately, this may have required regular cleaning and would not look too good after a few years if not regularly vacuumed and shampooed. Since yours was not secured down, it was likely quite easy to remove and discard.

Likewise, many older places like yours may have had fairly rigid linoleum or early vinyl flooring installed without complete adhesive application. This would allow for some shrinkage and expansion during the different seasons, but may have caused some deterioration if there were some poorly secured sections, or in high traffic areas. Since you have taken yours out, you may have exposed an older plywood surface that could be in fairly good condition, protected by the previous two layers of flooring. The first option to look at would be the least costly. If the floor sheathing is good-one-side plywood, with a smooth surface, a simple paint job could be the answer to your dilemma. Sealing the surface with a good quality primer and then painting with a product designed for floors could yield a suitable result. This will be smooth, not subject to collection of dirt and sand, and easily cleaned with a common mop. It may have a limited life expectancy, but recoating every few years may be similarly easy. The only concern would be if the surface is not smooth, or has deteriorated sections, then that option is off the table.

The next option would be some form of laminate flooring. This low-cost product may be an excellent choice for its durability and ease of installation, but may not be a good idea for your place. Since the core is fibreboard, made from wood fibre and binders, it is subject to swelling and deterioration if it gets wet. Since condensation is highly likely during the warming and cooling trends of the off-season, it may cause damage to the underside of any laminate installed. Some types may be more moisture resistant than others, but I would personally stay away from any laminate flooring.

Wood flooring may also be an option, but will be much more costly than other types, and is much more labour intensive, as it would have to be secured to the subfloor. Several types of hardwood may also not be good choice, due to the possibility of expansion and contraction with changes in moisture levels. Choosing a softwood like pine or fir may be a viable option, but that is only if you desire some amount of weathering and a more rustic look after a few years.

The best option may be some form of vinyl flooring, whether it is in sheet form or planks. Sheet vinyl should work, especially in the bathroom, but will normally have to be glued down and only solid vinyl flooring should be chosen. Alternatively, newer types of plank vinyl flooring may be the best choice overall and may be acceptable even in the bathroom. This material ranges from inexpensive to moderate in price, is easily transportable, and may be the simplest and quickest to install. The individual planks click together, somewhat like laminate, and can easily be cut to fit anywhere required. The material may expand and contract during seasonal changes, but is normally installed without adhesive, so will not buckle when it shrinks or swells. Since it is made from solid vinyl, it is as moisture resistant as any flooring option and is very hard and durable, so will stand up to shoes, pets and sand. In my opinion, it should meet all your criteria.

While several options may work for your seasonal cottage, the need for extreme durability, even in very cold weather, should point you toward plank vinyl flooring which should last for many years, even with your challenging needs.

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
August 29

Renovation & Design

Fishy dishwasher needs good cleaning

QUESTION — How can I get rid of a fishy smell coming from the inside of my dishwasher? — Jean

ANSWER — Old food stuck in the filter of the dishwasher is a common reason for the unit to carry a fishy odor. Scrub the filter and the inside of the dishwasher with an old toothbrush and: one-quarter cup bleach, 2-cups hot water and ½ tsp. dish soap and water. Large pieces of food stuck to the inside of the appliance is another reason for common fishy smells, this can also be removed with a good cleaning.

QUESTION — I like to cook my steaks on a skillet on the stove top. I use a splatter screen, but the grease comes through and makes a terrible mess on the stove. I bet you have a solution.


ANSWER — While the splatter screen is the best solution for reducing grease spray while cooking steaks, here is an addition that will help reduce clean-up efforts. Sprinkle salt onto the grill before cooking, this holds grease in its place, and prevents mess.

QUESTION — How do you keep strawberries from spoiling? Please tell me what I need to do before this year’s picking season.


ANSWER — Do not wash berries until ready to use. Using a large baking sheet, wet a tea towel and lay it on the sheet. Spread berries onto the baking sheet so they do not touch each other. Wet another tea towel and cover the berries before putting the pan inside the fridge. Berries will be beautiful, even after five days.

Extra Tip: You can take this one step further by soaking the strawberries in 50/50 vinegar and water before laying them onto the baking sheet, that way they are already clean and ready for eating throughout the week.

Feedback from Friendly Manitobans:

Re: Peeling Boiled Eggs Quickly

The best tip I’m using is steaming the eggs in a vegetable steamer for 20 minutes. The shells fall off. — Claude

The absolutely best way to peel an egg, doesn’t matter whether they are hot or cold, shake the eggs a few times in a jar with the lid on. The peel just pops off, I couldn’t believe how easy this is. — Tamara

Re: Drying Basil

My husband and I love basil so when I read your article in the Winnipeg Free Press regarding how to store, freeze and dry basil, I tried drying it out as per your instructions. I set the oven for 180 F and checked the basil after less than 30 minutes. All the leaves were completely dry; they were perfect. — Thank you, Jaclyn

Re: Cold Sores

I used to get cold sores on a regular basis, and nothing worked including the expensive over the counter medications as well as prescription drugs costing quite a bit of money. I accidentally found that using liquid soap, especially the commercial grade soap available in the workplace washroom, greatly reduced my frequency of cold sores. For example, as soon as I felt the "tingling" sensation of a cold sore about to appear, I would wash the area with liquid soap and warm water for less than a minute around 2 - 3 times a day. Just before bedtime, I would apply a dab of liquid soap onto the affected area and allow to dry overnight. Within a day or two, I found the cold sore would go away or be limited in scope. — Anonymous

Re: Poison Ivy

One time I was pulling "weeds" in our large suburban backyard that turned out to be poison ivy. Before I broke out in a huge rash, I washed the area with liquid soap, gently toweled off the area with a paper towel, and after I was dry, I applied an over the counter overnight acne cream that prevented the spread of poison ivy. It made sense because overnight acne medication is designed to dry out the oils causing an acne outbreak. — Regards, Anonymous

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

Reena Nerbas
August 29


Renovation & Design

Knowledge blossoms

Colleen Zacharias
August 22

Renovation & Design

Stone foundation walls need quick, not perfect, repairs

QUESTION — I have an old Wolseley home, built in 1911, with a stone foundation. It appears to be a limestone/tyndall stone type. There are a couple of small areas that I am looking to repoint on the exterior above grade. It’s probably too small to be worth a contractor’s time, so I think this is something that I could do, but I had a question about what type of mortar to use. For this type of application, I was wondering what type of mortar do you use? I assume that a Portland cement would be too hard and may damage the stone itself. Do you use a hydraulic lime mortar, or is there a design mix that would be appropriate? Where could I source these materials in Winnipeg. Thanks for your time.

Regards, Phil Slota


ANSWER — Determining the best type of mortar to use for the repointing of your stone foundation should be possible by contacting a knowledgeable masonry supplier, but you may find multiple opinions the more sources you consult. What is more critical is to get the old mortar joints filled soon, regardless of the mortar composition, to prevent leakage and further deterioration.

It may be prudent with most maintenance repairs to use the best materials available, to obtain the most long-lasting result. However, it is often more important to complete the job in a timely fashion to prevent further deterioration or issues. Especially with something like a repair to deteriorated mortar joints in your foundation, filling them in with any good quality mortar compound will be better than procrastinating, waiting to find the perfect product.

Part of the reason for this unusual response is that there may be multiple answers to this question, even from experienced masons or suppliers. Because these foundations have not been installed for almost a century, primarily replaced with reinforced concrete, there may not be any authority old enough to remember the best methodology. Even if a specific type of mortar was used then it does not mean that its use today would be better than a more modern product.

There have been many advancements in adhesive technology in the last few decades, with longer lasting and easier to use compounds available. Current cultured stone veneer, used on many new homes, does not require complete wire lathe and mortar backing like older masonry veneers. It is also rare to install a steel angle under this veneer for support, which was standard with older products. Because of the superior adhesion of the compounds used to install these newer materials, the amount of labour involved in installation may be considerably reduced.

To address your question more directly, contacting a masonry supply company may yield your most experienced response. They should be able to point you to several mortar products that would work and provide you with the pros and cons of each. Alternatively, you could buy individual components in bags or containers and order a load of sand from a landscaping supply and create your own mixture. This is often less costly than pre-mixed compounds, but using a redi-mix that you just add water to is normally much less work.

The first step in doing your mortar maintenance repair is to thoroughly inspect the existing foundation exterior. All mortar joints should be probed with a strong screwdriver or masonry chisel to ensure all loose or deteriorated old material is removed. Even if it looks good to the naked eye, old mortar may be hanging on by a thread and removing any loose material will be critical to a successful repair. Once you have cleaned out all the damaged gaps between the stones, an extra additive may be advisable to ensure proper adhesion of the new mortar. This can often be painted on the surface to be mortared, or added to the mortar as it is being mixed. Again, check with suppliers for the best materials and methods.

Most importantly, refilling the old joints as soon as possible is the goal for this type of repair. If left too long, these joints can allow water to leak into the basement during heavy rainstorms. Even more insidious is that deteriorated mortar joints can allow water to infiltrate the stones and mortar, which may cause more severe damage when the weather drops below zero. Water expands when it freezes and wet joints or foundations can cause significant deterioration if left untended. The best way to prevent this is by filling the joints at the earliest convenience.

I have seen many types of repairs done on older stone foundations, including outside above grade and above and below grade inside. Most will adhere reasonably well, and some will crack more easily than others, over time. But the underlying concern should be to try and maintain well filled, solid joints, rather than worrying about having the best mortar materials in these gaps. Sure, better material will last longer, preventing quicker deterioration and earlier repairs, but as long as you are willing and able to make these repairs in a timely fashion, that should not be a major consideration.

Locating a wholesale or retail supplier of masonry products to the local building industry should provide you will several good options for your stone foundation mortar repair. Regardless, making sure the repairs are done before the joints become too deteriorated and wet will be much more important in maintaining solid, dry foundation walls.

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
August 22

Renovation & Design

Check out this deck with a view

Marc LaBossiereRENO BOSS 
August 15

Renovation & Design

Hire a pro to fix shoddy work

Question: I live in Thunder Bay. A few years ago, I had a backwater valve installed. The pit continuously fills with water and my husband drains it daily. I’ve had a few plumbers inspect it and nobody seems to really know what I can do. They suggest putting in a sump pit to lower the water table and then all the water will go to the pit rather than the backwater valve pit. I never had any problems prior to this pit being installed. The problem is we have floating vinyl floor over the concrete floor and all the new concrete poured over the backwater valve piping seems to seep moisture and cause mould under the floor. The plumber who did the job will not return our phone calls. He also put a bathroom in downstairs for us and we had many problems and had to have another plumber fix it all.

I am wondering if you have advice?

Thanks, Katrina O’Brien


Answer: Poor workmanship by some subtrades is an unfortunate reality in today’s homebuilding or renovation climate. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and hire a more experienced contractor to repair or replace the work done by the shoddy tradesperson.

Installation of a backwater valve should be a proper part of installation or retrofitting of a bathroom in a basement. Installation of this plumbing device will require partial breaking up of the basement concrete floor slab, excavation, and patching of the floor where the concrete has been removed. There may be numerous reasons that you are seeing excessive moisture on top of the valve cover and in the concrete and none of them are typical. The most serious could be poor connection of the valve piping to the existing drains, which can lead to waste leaking under the slab. If this has occurred, there is no choice but to break up the floor, once more, and repair the leaking pipe. Left unchecked, this could lead to a health concern with sewer gas infiltrating the living space and waste contamination of the soil underneath the floor.

Another possibility is that your home may have a polyethylene air/vapour barrier membrane installed under the concrete slab. This thin sheathing is installed in homes to prevent soil gasses from entering the basement through the concrete. It also will serve to prevent wicking up of moisture from damp soil under the slab, in homes with high water table or other moisture issues.

Worrying about the exact reason for the issues you are facing may be a bit of waste of time and energy. Since other plumbers have not been able to determine the cause, it is likely hidden under the patched concrete. Unfortunately, the only solution may be to completely redo the original installation, properly, to prevent a reoccurrence. Since you are also having some issues with the new bathroom, an experienced Red Seal plumber should be hired to remove and reinstall the backwater valve and fix the poor workmanship issues in the bathroom, as well. 

Another option to think about when repairing the shoddily installed valve, would be to install a sump pit and pump, at the same time. This is often done when a new backwater valve is installed, to prevent flooding of the basement during a sewer back up event during a heavy rainstorm.

It may seem like you are in an unresolvable situation, with no solution to the problems caused by poor workmanship for your basement bathroom by a slipshod plumber. Fortunately, there is a solution, but it likely requires complete removal of the backwater valve and replacement.

August 15

Renovation & Design

Boil away that nasty black char on pots and pans

Question: I use steel cut oats and often prepare the oats the night before and warm them in the morning. One morning I was in a bit of a hurry and had the stove on too high, and it didn’t help that I happened to use the cheapest pot I have because it is the perfect size. Is there a way to remove the black char on the bottom of the pot? Thank you very much. Arlin

Answer: Soak the pan with dishwasher detergent and hot water for a couple of hours, scrub with a steel wool pad. Or (and this is what I like to do) into the pot pour a generous amount of baking soda, dish soap and enough vinegar to fill the pot a half-inch full. Boil the contents for five minutes. Turn off stove. Let sit just until cool enough to handle and scrub with an SOS pad. Some people use oven cleaner for this purpose and leave it overnight, but I prefer baking soda.

Question: I’ve been reading new recipes and have come across some words that I can’t wrap my brain around. What is the difference between broth, bouillon and stock? Submitted by: Hank

Answer: Broth and bouillon are words that are interchangeable. Traditional stock is made with vegetables, bones and liquid, with no seasonings. Stock is not a finished product and is typically added to soup and/or sauces. Broth is the liquid in which the bones have been cooked and it is typically seasoned. Broth may be served as is, for example consume soup. Vegetable broth is the same as vegetable stock.

Question: How will I get diesel fuel odour out of upholstered boat cushions that have foam inside of the material? Marjorie

Answer: Begin by cleaning the cushions with dish soap and water. Blot the entire cushion and lay on the grass to air dry. When the cushions are dry, purchase heavy-duty garbage bags and put one of the cushions inside of the bag with a few dryer sheets or cotton balls soaked with vanilla or coffee. Use your vacuum nozzle to suck out all of the air in the bag. Close the bag and leave for a day or two. Remove cushion and repeat steps with the next cushion.

Save some dough

— Don’t throw away extra hot dog buns, day old bread or bread ends. Instead collect them in an ice cream bucket with no lid. Once dry, tear them into pieces and make vegetable lasagna. Layer frozen vegetables and bread pieces into a greased casserole pan. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Beat six eggs or more and pour over mixture. Let sit for 30 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes. Cheese and meat may be added if desired.

— Dried bread is the best for making bread crumbs, croutons and stuffing.

— Freshly baked bread should be cooled, wrapped in foil and then put into two clear, reusable plastic bags before freezing. This prevents bread from becoming soggy or mouldy. Defrost bread inside plastic bags.

— Keep room temperature bread in a paper bag and leave the cut side down on, your cutting board. Doing this keeps the inside soft.

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 at:

Reena Nerbas SOLUTIONS
August 15

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