Renovation & Design


Renovation & Design

Baking soda will remove stubborn teacup stains

Question: I notice that when I remove my teacup from the dishwasher it has a brown stain on the inside of the cup. What is the best way to prevent this? Thank-you, Louisa

Answer: Most of the time, if you apply a little dish soap to a green scrubby pad and scrub the inside of the cup, the stain will disappear. For stubborn stains, apply baking soda to a damp, green scrubby pad. Wipe and rinse.


Question: When I roll out bread dough, I lay my plastic cutting board on the counter and roll out the dough on the board. My cutting boards are so old that the dough picks up the odour left behind on the board. Are there any cutting boards, that would not transfer an odour to the bread dough? Liezel

Answer: A stainless steel cutting board is a good investment for kneading dough. Avoid using them as surfaces for cutting, as you will notice that your knives become dull, but for bread dough they are perfect because they don’t transfer odours. Dampen a dish cloth and lay it under the cutting board, so that the board doesn’t slide around while you knead the dough.


Question: I have a door that squeaks, it absolutely drives me crazy especially at night when I am trying not to disturb my dog. As cautious as I am, she inevitably wakes up and then wants to be let outside. I recently painted the door, I am wondering if this may have something to do with the squeak. Any suggestions? Derrick

Answer: The first solution is to tighten the hinges and use a cotton swab to apply petroleum jelly or spray WD-40 on the hinges. Next, rub paraffin or paste wax onto the door jams. If that doesn’t fix the sticking, secure transparent tape inside the door jams. If all else fails, lightly sand the areas, not to remove the paint, just to add roughness to the sticky areas.


Question: When measuring ingredients for some of my recipes, they call for six tablespoons of margarine. What is the equivalent in cups? Knowing this would save me a lot of time. Thanks, Texas

Answer: Eight tablespoons is equivalent to half a cup, but six tablespoons is equal to 0.375 cups. A quick trick for measuring six tablespoons is to fill a half cup with butter or margarine, and then scoop two tabelspoons out of the cup — it’s backwards, but it works.


Question: What is the fastest method for drying a stack of lumber? I want to build a sauna, but I don’t want to wait for months to dry out the wood. Many thanks. Kenton 

Answer: Position a dehumidifier beside the wood and let it take care of the moisture. This method will reduce drying time from months to weeks.


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 
March 20

Renovation & Design

Bright ideas

Marc LaBossiere
March 20

Renovation & Design

Home sweet home

Laurie Mustard
March 20

Renovation & Design

Outdoor kitchens add extra spice to our backyard retreats

Our backyards promise to be popular spots again this year with the prospect of continued social distancing. And with the arrival of spring, our outdoor spaces are now getting extra attention.

“The boundaries between the inside space and outside space are vanishing more and more,” said Lydia Thammavong, a marketing specialist in seasonal and outdoor living for Lowe’s Canada.

According to Thammavong, outdoor kitchens are a particularly growing trend. She noted that online searches and sales for charcoal barbecues and smokers at Lowe’s have increased since the pandemic. And for those eager to upgrade their barbecue setup to something more functional or refined, creating an outdoor kitchen is the natural next step.

For Mike and Janneth Nolet, installing an outdoor kitchen in their Weston backyard was a no-brainer. Mike is an avid barbecuer and grills four nights a week in the summer. Janneth, who is from the Phillipines, grew up with the traditions of outside cooking. Their outdoor kitchen was part of a large three-year backyard remodelling project, which included the installation of a pool, bar, outdoor bathroom and shower, sound system and outdoor television.

The Nolets enlisted the help of Glen Griffiths, owner of My Outdoor Kitchen, to design, source and install their L-shaped backyard feature. It includes high-grade stainless steel appliances from the California-based manufacturer Hestan: a commercial fridge, two power burners and a $10,000 gas barbecue. There’s additional cupboard space under the barbecue for storing tools. Pull-out garbage and recycling bins are built into the unit. The countertop is made of leathered granite and the sides are finished in granite.

The structure of the Nolets’ outdoor kitchen cost about $28,000 to install, while appliances totalled around $22,000. Their outdoor kitchen was completed by the end of the summer in 2020. “We got our yard done at the right time, with COVID and everything,” Mike Nolet said. “Sometimes three or four friends will come over in the evening and we’ll barbecue and watch sports on the outdoor TV.”

Griffiths said that interest in his outdoor kitchen company has been higher than usual this year. “People are more prepared and planning ahead. They know to get a jump on it, because last year there was a problem getting things like grills from manufacturers.”

The starting price for a simple 10-foot-long outdoor kitchen would cost about $15,000 — or $1,500 a linear foot — not including the cost of appliances. Condo terrace kitchens can cost more with added considerations including the floor it’s on, the size of the elevator and elevator access, parking, utilities and condo permissions.

Premium materials, such as stone and wood, can be selected to match your home’s exterior. “Something popular now is the large-format slabs made of Dekton (a manufactured marble-like material) on the countertop and the face of the island,” Griffiths explained.

Griffiths says that sinks are often a challenge for outdoor kitchen builds, due to the cost of installing plumbing and a drain line. But direct gas connections and power are more common, and more easily fulfilled requests.

Pergolas and covers offer protection from the elements, while built-in heaters can help extend the grilling season into early spring and late fall. According to Griffiths, high-end outdoor kitchens can cost upwards of $70,000. “People start looking at things like pizza ovens, fridges, ice makers and sinks.”

On the other end of the price scale, Thammavong said a simple, DIY outdoor kitchen with six feet of counter space can be built for around $2,000. This setup could be as easy as building a roll-out storage cart to go beside a barbecue, creating a small grilling station. As well, a waist-height wooden bench can be built to serve this purpose. If you DIY the project, you can incorporate custom features — like a drop-in beverage bucket to keep items cool, or a ceramic grill or smoker.

If you’re not so handy, Lowe’s offers a kitchen prep station and an outdoor storage cart, made to withstand the elements, for $400 to $700. Or, for a step above, a seven-foot ready-to-go outdoor kitchen with a grill cabinet, drawers, a bar cabinet costs around $3,700. Made of stainless steel, these kitchens are built for all four seasons if covered and protected from winter weather.

As a first step toward an outdoor kitchen, Thammavong recommends surveying your space. “How big can you go? How many square feet do you want to sacrifice in your backyard, terrace or balcony for the kitchen area?” she said.

Next, consider whether you’d like to install a permanent fixture, which will require weather-proof materials. Or, if you’d like the flexibility to move the kitchen around, carts and benches can also be stored indoors in the winter.

Lastly, determine your budget before you start shopping. “You can do a little or a lot, depending on how much you want to spend and how you want the space to look,” Thammavong added.

Andrea Yu - Special to the Star, Toronto Star
March 17

Renovation & Design

Window well installation an easy and important task

Question: My parents’ Westwood home has a significant problem with the grading. The soil at the side and backyard slopes significantly towards the walls. That inward slope begins about five to seven feet out from the walls, and gets steeper in the last few feet nearest the walls. The problem is, to add enough soil to make the ground slope even slightly away from the home will require nearly a foot of added clay-based soil. It will have to be placed against the walls, gradually lessening in depth to a point about six feet out from the foundation.

There is a basement window that is only around six-inches above the existing grade. Do I need to attach a metal window well around this window so that I can raise the grade enough? That will require packing clay soil around six inches up against the new window well, to slope slightly away from this window area. What sort of window well and sealant would work best?

Thanks you for any help you can offer, Greg Jowett.

Answer: Installation of a window well to protect a basement window is required, when adding a large quantity of soil to improve the grading away from a foundation wall. Ensuring the well is high enough to protect the window is the key, while preventing blockage for light entry or egress.

It is not too often that an inquiry not only asks a pertinent question, but also answers it in the same few sentences. Yours is one of those rare occasions, where you seem to have an excellent grasp of the situation in question. Many people do not know the true function of a window well, which is simply to protect a basement window from damage or leakage from moisture. This moisture may be overland water that is caused by heavy rains and melting snow, or from that contained within the soil in this area.

If the soil adjacent to the foundation walls is near or above the bottom of a basement window, moisture intrusion and damage is almost a certainty. Because most basement windows are installed directly onto a lowered area in the concrete foundation wall, or on top of a thin wooden buck, there may be very small gaps at the bottom and sides of the window frame. These may have been filled with sealant or blown-in foam insulation during installation, which can deteriorate or shrink over time. Rarely will homeowners look to reseal this area, unless obvious leakage has occurred. Even with this area sealed, there could still be leakage through the window if the soil is too high or snow sits up against the window.

Regrading to provide a reasonable slope away from a foundation, where soil has eroded or settled, is a regular part of general maintenance in any home. You are to be commended for proactively planning this upgrade, even if it has been left untended for a long time. You have also identified one of the few complications of this simple but strenuous task, raising the grade higher than openings in the foundation wall. The equally simple answer to this dilemma is to install a window well, high enough to protect the window from future damage and leakage. Most homeowners elect to install corrugated metal wells, due to their durability, low cost, and ease of installation. These galvanized metal components are typically an elongated U-shape, with short right-angled bends at the terminal ends. These bent areas allow for attachment to the foundation wall, which can be done with a few different types of fasteners.

The most effective way to install a manufactured window well is to ensure purchasing one that is the appropriate height, width, and depth for your situation. The width is the easiest dimension to address, as the well should be slightly wider than the opening in the foundation wall where the window is installed. The height of the metal enclosure should be sufficient to allow about 10 cm. of clearance to grade below the window, after installation, and the top no higher than halfway up the window. The depth may be trickier, as it may depend on the size and type of the window it is meant to protect. If the basement window is only for ventilation and some light, then the well may only require a minimal depth of approximately 30 cm. If the window is larger, and also designed for proper egress from the basement in case of fire, then a well that protrudes further out from the foundation will be needed. In that situation, the fill in the bottom of the well may have to be raised to within a few cm. of the window frame, to allow easier exit in an emergency.

Installation will likely require slight excavation of the existing soil, which can be filled in later with granular material, to aid drainage. The well should be sealed at the foundation wall with either exterior grade sealant, or a moisture resistant foam rod. The foam rod may last longer and should not require regular replacement like the caulking method. The well should also be attached to the foundation wall, to avoid pulling away due to typical soil pressure and erosion. This is normally done by installing a drive-in or lag shield and bolt, and will require a masonry bit and hammer drill. Alternatively, a Hilti-gun with a hardened steel nail may be used, which will permanently bind the metal well to the concrete wall.

Due to the location of your existing basement windows, and the depth of soil required for proper regrading, installation of a window well is an essential part of your proposed maintenance. Choosing the properly sized well, and properly fastening and sealing it to the foundation wall, should be straightforward but must ensure that it allows proper emergency egress, if needed.

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
March 13

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