Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Foil is your friend when baking butter tarts

Question: Every time I bake butter tarts, I leave behind pastry when I go to remove them from the pan, after they are cool. I have even tried using Teflon pans with the same results. Can you tell me how I can serve whole tarts to my family? Allison

Answer: The absolute easiest solution is to line each muffin tin with foil. Once the tarts are cool, lift the foil up and the shape should stay intact. If you are worried about the tarts sticking to the foil, wipe each foil lined tin with a little margarine or butter before pressing the crust.

Question: I buy a lot of second-hand clothing. They often smell, even after being washed. They either smell like the previous owner’s perfume or they carry that familiar second-hand store scent. I washed the clothing using my regular detergent, what else can I do? Angela

Answer: Begin by soaking the smelly fabrics in a stainless-steel pot with one gallon water and one quarter cup of one of the following: borax, white vinegar, washing soda or club soda. Boil for five minutes. Next launder in hot water. If the clothes still smell, lay them on the grass on a rainy day, the combination of sunshine and rain will help take away the odours.

Question: What should I use to clean my garage doors? I have a pressure washer, but I don’t want to damage the paint. Garth

Answer: It is a great idea to clean your garage doors, twice a year. The safest technique for cleaning them is to scrub with dish soap and water. While many people opt to use a pressure washer, this comes with the risk of denting the metal or damaging the paint. Rinse with a regular garden hose, set on a gentle spray setting.

Question: I sometimes want to ripen bananas fast, so that I can use them for baking purposes. What can I do to speed up the process so that they are softer? Serenity

Answer: Using a knife or a fork, poke holes in the peel and lay the bananas on a baking sheet. Bake them in the oven at 300 degrees for 15 minutes. They should be brown before you remove them from the oven.

Why keep it to yourself?

Regarding weeds between bricks on a path. Thought I would send a suggestion to you: I find pouring boiling water on the weeds works great. No need for any sprays. — Helen

Knowing that I will no longer be given plastic grocery bags, I wanted to keep a few on hand, but didn’t know how to store them. I recently realized that the easiest storage unit is an empty tissue box, I stuff them in there, with the handle facing the opening and then pull them out, one at a time, as needed. — Celina

Instead of spraying glass doors with glass cleaner, I wipe them with a fabric softener sheet to clean them. They really shine! — Donella

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 23


Renovation & Design

Call in a pro when covering a skylight

Question: I’ve been looking for information on how to fix a skylight cavity, once the skylight has been removed, and ran across an article you wrote, online. In it you say to remove the skylight housing. If this is not possible, would it work to drill holes in the housing for cross air ventilation between rafters in my cathedral ceiling?

My skylight, I assume, was installed between rafters, 24 inch-on-centre, with framing from rafter to rafter to make a box. The skylight was taken out 13 years ago and I put a thin piece of birch plywood over the opening, with decorative holes for ventilation, to keep the underside roof decking dry. It worked, except around the inside edges of the cavity. I just got a new roof and assumed they would replace the roof decking if needed. They didn’t, and it should have been replaced, as it was cut short and did not cover the whole hole, which is now sagging at one end. I will be calling the roofer, as I think the whole sheet should have been replaced. I’m also worried that any work is going to compromise the whole underlayment, just to repair this section. So much for a strong protective new roof!

I just had my son drill three, one-inch holes, about an inch down from the decking, in each end of the box between the rafters. I did this so air could flow between the rafters, and then jammed a piece of two-inch-thick foam insulation into the cavity. He then put plywood over the opening. I’ll figure out how to finish it later, maybe with a picture of a night sky. Will this work?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you, JoAnne.

Answer: Repairing, properly insulating, and air sealing the area in your roof system where an old skylight has been removed is no small task. It certainly requires a high level of understanding of building science principals. This is undoubtedly beyond the scope of most homeowners, and should most certainly be left to professional contractors for proper remediation.

There are many small to moderate jobs that may be within the skill and knowledge level of the average home handyperson, but care should be taken to not exceed those limits. Quite frequently, I observe improperly installed upgrades or repairs in homes that I come across in typical inspection. Often, these can be attributed to enthusiastic homeowners wanting to test their renovation skills. Almost as frequently, this type of poor quality workmanship can be the result of improperly trained individuals wanting to cash in on the “flipping” craze. Either way, bad work may range from a purely cosmetic issue, to a major defect requiring immediate repair.

While I often encourage my clients to attempt small repairs, like patching and painting small cracks or damage to walls and ceilings, more complex work should be avoided. My concern is not over the physical limitations of the repairs, but the lack of knowledge. Too often improper work is the result of not knowing the proper methodology for the task. While that can often be remedied by an extensive search of YouTube videos, most people will not spend the time required for proper research. The results are usually easy to spot, with leaky or gurgling plumbing components, non-functioning electrical fixtures, uneven tiles, jamming doors, and the list goes on. So, the key to successfully attempting any DIY projects is to ensure that you know the proper methods before you begin.

Properly air sealing and filling in an older skylight opening will require a contractor with extensive knowledge and experience in building enclosure work. The exact methods for this work will also vary according to the climate in which your home is located. Because you had only a thin piece of plywood over the old opening for several years, I would doubt you live in our area. Otherwise, warm air intrusion, condensation, and leakage would likely have been a regular occurrence. What makes it even more tricky is the fact that the skylight was located in a vaulted ceiling. Many of those type of roof systems were never well insulated or vented properly from the beginning, so much more extensive upgrades would likely be required. The ideal time to do that would have been at the same time as the roofing replacement, but that window is now closed.

I rarely reply to a respondent’s inquiry without any sort of answer, but in this case, I will make an exception. Not only am I not willing to provide you with specific details, I am unable due the many variables in play. The location of the home, climate, pitch and direction of the roof, trees, roofing materials, thickness of the roof system, and current insulation and ventilation of the surrounding area all must be evaluated before going further. I will go out on a limb and suggest that a proper repair is beyond the capability of any homeowner, unless they are currently employed in the building design or construction field.

Further ill-advised and random work, or attempts to properly insulate and ventilate the opening for your former skylight, should be immediately halted. That type of work will require a high level of experience and knowledge of building enclosures, and well beyond your capabilities. Hiring a good general contractor, or building enclosure specialist, will help avoid further problems, and deterioration to your home and roof system, where the issue is located.

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 23

Renovation & Design

Leather chair easily restored with correct products

Question: I have two problems that I cannot seem to solve. One is a dark green leather chair arm that is always leaned on and has lost some of its colour, and is slightly worn. I would like to restore it. I’m a big fan of permanent markers to repair scratches, chips, and I use correction fluid to repair nicks on woodwork, but I don’t want to use any of these on a perfectly usable and still acceptably, appearing piece of furniture.

My other question has to do with a dark brown steel front door that I find impossible to clean without leaving lint, streaks. It is a painted surface that has been baked on, presumably, at time of manufacture. Thanks, Val

Answer: The colour of the leather furniture can be successfully restored with a topically applied leather finish that is mixed, to match the original colour. When correctly applied, the leather will appear new. You need to either contact a professional leather restorer or purchase a leather dye kit, keep in mind that colour matching needs to be perfect. In the meantime, you may also want to shine the leather by buffing it with olive oil or cold cream and a soft cloth.

In terms of the painted door, consider olive oil. It does not tend to attract lint; it does not tend to leave streaks and it is a product that many people have on hand. You can also try the following formula, which is great to use on windows because it does not streak. RECIPE: In a 16-ounce spray bottle combine, one tablespoon rubbing alcohol, 1/2-cup ammonia (or vinegar), one teaspoon Dawn dish soap and enough water to fill the bottle. Spray on and wipe with a microfibre cloth or crumpled up newspaper. Do this on a cloudy day or in the morning.

Question: Our problem arose after a very old bag of onions developed a bad case of rot. The fridge has smelled mouldy ever since, despite a couple of wipe downs with bleach and warm water. There is a piece of Styrofoam in the ceiling of the fridge. It may have something to do with air circulation. I wonder whether it acts as a sponge for the spores. — Brian

Answer: Leave an open bowl of rubbing alcohol in the fridge to absorb the smell.

Update: Brian tried the rubbing alcohol, and the smell is now gone!

Feedback from Contributor

In one of your previous columns, one of the questions that was asked was what a food allergy is. I would like to provide my own response.

A food allergy is when your body overreacts to certain foods. In the mild form, this can be as simple as a rash, sniffles, or watery eyes. In the extreme, this can include swelling of the throat closing off airflow or worse, a multi-system body shock which can lead to death, in a matter of minutes, if left untreated.

Individual sensitivity to an allergy may differ, ranging from reacting when it is digested, to having contact with the allergen, to reacting to it in the air. As your child goes to school it is important to read the labels of all food items being sent to verify that they do not contain nuts or traces of nuts. If your child were to have a nut product before going to school, it would be important to thoroughly wash their hands and brush their teeth to avoid transferring the allergen by touch. Finally, if you are baking anything for the class it is important to read the labels, but also be aware of potential ways nuts may come in contact with your baking for example, nut residue being left on the counter, or double-dipping your knife from the peanut butter to the butter dish and then using the contaminated butter in your baking. — Anonymous

Healthy tip

To get the full benefits of flax in recipes, consume ground flax instead of whole seeds. Use a coffee grinder to grind the seeds or purchase flax, pre-ground. Sprinkle on cereals, yogurt or add flax to baking or smoothies. — Wendy

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
April 16

Renovation & Design

Regular inspection of sump pump always good idea

Question: I recently read an article you answered back in 2019 concerning a homeowner’s concern about cracks in his sump pit wall.

I reside in a home where the water table is very high. My house, along with my neighbour’s house, have a constant discharge of water. As it sits now, the pump runs six to 10 times a day. My concern is that the walls of the pit appear to be bulging in and one of the weeping tile hoses has pulled away from the pit, allowing gravel and dirt to enter into the bottom of the sump. The house was built in 2014, on a footing, and is located in St. Adolphe. I was wondering what I should do about this, if anything?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Eric D.

Answer: Deciding if anything is required to correct a buckled sump pit may be a difficult choice, even for an experienced inspector, homeowner, or contractor. As long as it is still functioning properly, not visibly cracked or damaged, and not causing any other issues, the situation may only require monitoring rather than immediate action.

Because of the expansive nature of our clay-based soil in the Red River valley, movement of house systems embedded in the soil is all too common. This may include foundations, basement floor slabs, plumbing drains and supply pipes, and sump pump and weeping tile systems. It may be impossible to completely guard against movement of these systems, but homebuilders will take measures to minimize this issue, at the time of construction. For weeping tile piping and sump pits, this normally includes surrounding these critical components with granular fill.

Most commonly used for this purpose is a building product called pea gravel. This easy to shovel material is made up of very small, round stones which provides a much more flexible substrate than the surrounding soil. Because the pebbles are round, they easily move against each other, even when under pressure. Also, the gaps between the numerous individual components allows for excellent drainage of water. These two properties make it an ideal material to bridge the gap between the clay soil and embedded drainage systems. This should be the gravel that you are seeing entering the sump through small gaps around the weeping tile piping.

While the pea gravel should provide a reasonable, flexible buffer between the plastic walls of your sump and the surrounding clay, it may not be completely effective in preventing excessive pressure on the pit. That may be due to a smaller than adequate amount of fill used, or some other factor. If there is constant moisture surrounding the sump area, due to poor grading or weeping tile leakage, then that may affect the structural integrity of the sump walls. If there is downward pressure on the basement floor slab near the pit, that may also cause the issue. Determining the true cause may not be possible without partial floor removal, which should not be necessary.

The plastic sump pit in your home serves only one function, which is to collect and contain water flowing from the weeping tile pipes, until the pump can successfully push that water back outside the foundation. This should be the case, as long as the walls of the pit are not cracked, or broken. Because the plastic is semi-flexible, it can bow and buckle a fair amount before that occurs. It is quite common to see this happen, and on rare occasions it will cause damage significant enough to warrant replacement. Unless that is the current situation in your home, even if the sump walls looked warped, there may be little concern.

The other consideration is the movement in the weeping tile pipes that terminate through the walls of the sump. These round, black plastic pipes have very large corrugations, which significantly increase their durability and strength. For that reason, it is very unusual for these to become damaged in uncut sections, even deep within expansive clay soils. But that property will not prevent them from moving lengthwise, if the soil surrounding them shifts, swells, or shrinks. For that reason, builders will normally extend these pipes several centimetres into the sump. The extra length should accommodate expansion and contraction of the pipes, as well as minimal to moderate soil movement. If this wasn’t done adequately, the pipes may pull back through the side walls of the sump, allowing pea gravel to spill into the pit. That situation will require remediation, because the weeping tile water may not be fully draining into the sump and an extension of the offending pipes will be needed.

Pre-emptive repairs to your buckled sump pit and weeping tile system may only be necessary if there is visible, physical damage, or if the water from the pipes is not fully entering the sump. If that is not the case then regular inspection and monitoring of the situation should alert you to any negative changes. If those do occur, replacement of the sump pit and/or repairs to the weeping tiles will be warranted.

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 16

Renovation & Design

Above the grid

Marc LaBossiere
April 9

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