Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Buttermilk marinate the secret to delicious fried chicken

Question: Do you have any secrets for making really, good fried chicken? Seth

Answer: I used to recommend, soaking the chicken overnight in canned chicken stock (one or two cans for six to eight pieces of chicken) because it brings out the flavour. I have since discovered that marinating the chicken in buttermilk is even better. Before cooking consider the taste of the oil to ensure you like the flavour. Preheat your skillet with oil to about 375F, the temperature will drop as you add chicken. Coat the chicken with flour, return it to the buttermilk and then the flour, as this will add a better coating. Fry the chicken and then drain on towels for about five minutes before serving. Do not overcrowd the pan, allow your chicken enough room, between pieces. If making the chicken ahead of time, keep it hot in the oven at 250F.


Question: How do you fertilize a cactus? Serena

Answer: Cacti are hardy plants that require low nutrient care. Homemade cacti fertilizer is as easy as combining one tablespoon of Epsom salt and four litres of water. Misting plants with a spray bottle rather than pouring water into the pot is preferred. Succulents (plants with leafy tissues that conserve moisture) only need fertilizer in late spring or summer. One of the very best trade secrets for happy cacti is to add compost rich in nutrients to soil mix.


Question: Do you have a recipe for making vinegar from herbs? Emilie

Answer: In a large re-sealable glass container combine one large bunch of clean herbs such as, basil or tarragon with three cups white wine vinegar. Store in a cool, dry place, can be used for up to one year. This is great for vinaigrettes. Additionally, some herbs, such as parsley, chives and basil can be pureed with a small amount of water in a blender, and then frozen in ice cube trays. They can later be stored in plastic bags for use in flavoring soup and sauces. Herb butter can be made with the addition of about fopur tablespoons chopped, dried herb leaves and a dash of lemon juice to 1/4-pound of butter softened at room temperature. The butter should then be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container.


Question: What is an easy way to remove cat hair from clothing? Sofia

Answer: A lint brush is the most popular option for removing cat hair from fabric. Or you could rap a large roll of masking tape around your hand and as you run your hand over your clothes, it picks up the hair and sticks to the tape. Each layer of tape can be pulled off to give you a fresh surface underneath. Another option is Pet Pick-up brushes which are brushes with a specialized head that captures hair in the nap of the fabric and releases it when brushed in the opposite direction. Fabric sprays applied to clothing for static cling also repels pet hair. Another option is to rub a fabric softener dryer sheet over the surface of clothing as a pet hair pick up. Store clothing in plastic dry cleaner bags in the closet to prevent hair from accumulating.


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 6

Renovation & Design

Tankless water heaters likely not worth it here

Question: What is your opinion on tankless water heaters, particularly for use in the Winnipeg climate? Are they worth the cost and can they provide water hot enough in the winter when the temperature of the water entering the house from the water main is typically only a little above freezing? Do you have any recommendations as to brands which perform better than others? We have friends in Regina who have a Navien brand, not sure which model, but it is natural gas, and they are quite satisfied with it.

Thanks for any information that you can provide, Roy H.

Answer: Tankless water heaters are not common in the Winnipeg area, and evaluating them with my limited experience can be very difficult, due to the small sample size. Using environmentally friendly mechanical systems is commendable, but may not be practical in our area due to our low electricity and natural gas rates and reliable water source.

Tankless water heaters are a system for providing whole house hot water only on demand and not stored in a large tank, like standard gas-fired and electric water heaters. These units vary in cost and style, primarily between the natural gas and electric models. The operation is similar to the water heating method in a common coffee maker, but on a larger scale. There are two main benefits to this type of system over the traditional tank method of water heating.

The first benefit is the small size, eliminating the need for a large area for the tank to store up to 285 litres of pre-heated water. In conjunction with this, there is a water saving component. The on-demand unit provides instant hot water from the small unit, negating the use of somewhat cooler water in various gradients within a large tank. This will save some water being wasted down the drain system, while waiting for higher temperature water to arrive at the faucet from the tank.

The second benefit is the saving in power to heat the water. Because the water in a tank needs periodic heating to maintain a working temperature, due to heat loss through the tank walls, they are not as energy efficient as possible. Extra natural gas or electricity is required for this purpose, even when heated water is not being drawn from a plumbing fixture. Because of this, energy is being wasted when compared with a tankless, on-demand unit, which only uses energy when operating.

Both of these features make a tankless water heater much better for the environment, due to the lack of wasted energy and water resources. Also, there is a much larger amount of physical material, primarily metals, used in the tank of a traditional water heater. Much of this may be recyclable, but the limited life expectancy of either style of heater can be a large factor for waste production. A typical tank-style heater has an average life expectancy of 10-15 years, with municipally treated water, so thousands are replaced every year. I am not sure of the average lifespan of a tankless unit, but I would assume it may be similar. Disposing or recycling as much as 30 kilograms of waste, for a standard water heater, as opposed to about 10 kilos for a tankless unit also reduces the environmental impact of using a tankless system.

Now that we have discussed the pros and cons, we can address the main purpose of your inquiry. Unfortunately, I cannot give you much help with your main question. I don’t know if the added cost of an on-demand unit relative to a tank style is worth the added initial expense. The reason for this is the limited experience I have with seeing tankless units installed in our area. I can count on one hand the number of units I have seen in the thousands of pre-purchase inspections I have completed, over more than two decades. One reason for this is the very low cost of natural gas, mainly used for water heating, until recently. Most new home and retro-fitted water heaters are electric, which have higher ongoing energy costs than gas, but still are economical. Because we continue to have some of the lowest hydro rates in the world, heating water in this old-fashioned way is still the standard in Manitoba.

On-demand units are much more common in European homes, and other areas, where water and energy sources are more scarce and much more costly. In many parts of the U.S. standard water tanks are prevalent, even with much higher heating costs than here. There are areas, primarily in California and some states with large populations in deserts, where tankless heaters are more popular. I would suggest reviewing online research from homeowner reviews and other resources in those locations, for better answers to your questions.

Determining whether an on-demand, tankless water heater is worth the up-front costs, relative to a standard water heater, may be difficult due to the lack of data in our area. If you want to install that type of unit strictly from an environmental viewpoint, please do, but otherwise our low energy and water costs will likely lead to ordering installation of a typical water heater.

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 6


Renovation & Design

Slick storage

Marc LaBossiere 
March 6

Renovation & Design

Boil water and vinegar to clean your microwave

Question: I use my microwave about three or four times per day, it is three years old and smells like food. What is the best way to freshen it, so that it doesn’t look and smell disgusting? Samson

Answer: Pour 1/4-cup of vinegar and 3/4-cup of water into a microwave safe bowl or cup and run the microwave on high for five minutes. Use a sponge to wipe the inside of the appliance. The more regularly you clean the microwave, the easier it will be to clean, as food will not be as baked on.


Question: Is it normal for guys to shape their eyebrows? Or should they just let them grow into a mess of hairy cactuses on their face? Sam

Answer: Untrimmed eyebrows on a guy can be a distraction, which is easily rectified (if the guy is willing or sleeping — just kidding). If professional stylists are offering to trim your eyebrows for you, there may be a reason. Professional trimmers are affordable, and worth the investment.


Question: Can you tell me how to separate two large stackable Pyrex bowls when they will not come apart? Thanks, Marilyn

Answer: The easiest solution for separating two glass bowls, is to fill the inside bowl with ice water, this will force the molecules to contract. Place the outside bowl in a few inches of hot water, this will cause the molecules to expand. After five minutes twist the bowls in opposite directions. Repeat until the bowls separate.


Question: I’m wondering if you can help me! My daughter was stirring/mixing some organic peanut butter the other day and a big glop of oil landed on the front of her favourite white sweatshirt. I’ve tried soaking it in OxiClean and water for several hours and then washing it — but the stain is still there. It has not been in the dryer thank goodness. Thanks so much, Brenda

Answer: Glad to hear that the sweatshirt never made its way into the dryer. Cover the stain with half a teaspoon of Dawn dish soap, half a teaspoon of three per cent hydrogen peroxide and one teaspoon of cornstarch. Leave for two or three hours. Wash the sweatshirt in hot water, air dry. Repeat process until the stain is gone.


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 
February 27

Renovation & Design

Minor evidence of moisture in crawl space likely not an issue

Question: I think about you every time I open the hatch to enter the crawl space below our basement floor. We had the home custom built in 2007 and I presume met all bylaw requirements of the day. The dirt floor is covered in polyethylene, beneath a layer of gravel. The furnace has two, six-inch diameter heat ducts, connected directly to the plenum, putting heat into the 1800-square-foot cavity, and one five-inch diameter duct connected to the HRV, presumably the return air duct.

The problem I see every time I open the hatch is that the gravel is covered in a thin layer of white, almost fluffy stuff. When I touch the gravel and move it around it shows a perfectly normal underside. This is applicable only to the lowest area of the crawlspace and the upper areas are dry and normal. Some time ago I put some newspaper down on the gravel in the lower area, to keep my clothes clean, as I was working on the sump pump. Today that newspaper looks like it absorbed a small amount of moisture and is all crinkled. The furnace fan and the HRV are run continuously at low speed.

The question I have for you is, should I be concerned about any of this or is it fairly normal? Your expert opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you, Lawrence Klippenstein


Answer: Seeing a thin coating of white minerals on the surface of stones in a crawlspace is not something to be too worried about. Other than showing evidence of some moisture, or lack of ventilation, there is little to be concerned with the visible efflorescence.

There are numerous visible signs of potentially serious moisture related issues inside our homes and some that may appear to be important indicators, but are not. Anytime brown stains are seen on ceilings or walls it may be an indication of a serious water issue. These can range from melting frost and moisture issues in an attic to leaking plumbing pipes. Also, similar stains on basement carpets, or lots of white powder on the interior of a concrete foundation or floor slab likely means water infiltration problems. If these are seen within your home then further evaluation is essential and imminent repairs are likely to prevent further issues.

In a crawlspace, especially one below a structural wood floor as in your home, some moisture is expected. Because this area is well below grade the soil is more prone to water accumulation from surrounding soil. For this reason, weeping tiles should have a greater than normal slope downward toward a sump, normally in the middle of the crawlspace. Checking to ensure the sump pump is properly installed and working is paramount. Also, if there is a substantial amount of water sitting in the bottom of the sump before the pump turns on, adjustments may be required.

The other reason that moisture often is noted in a crawlspace like yours is that there may be areas of poor ventilation or air circulation. Especially if there are several directional changes in the foundation, this will be more likely. Even with the heat and return air or HRV ducts you have described there can be corners or areas away from these ducts where air movement is poor. Especially nearer to the foundation walls, where the soil is likely closest to the wood floor above, condensation is often an issue. If any active water is seen, either on the surface of the polyethylene sheathing over the dirt floor, or condensation on the foundation or floor structure, improvement should be made to the HVAC ducts in those areas. Adding more ducts, or relocating some to more troublesome locations, may be the solution.

To answer your concern more directly, the whitish powder or crystals you are seeing is simply efflorescence and is essentially harmless. This material is just salts and minerals that are leaching from the stones covering the plastic sheathing on the floor of the crawlspace. These minerals will appear after the stones gets wet, but the source of the moisture may be difficult to pinpoint if not immediately visible. It can just as easily occur due to condensation, as from water infiltration. Because the stone is on top of the cold soil below, they will be cooler than the surrounding environment inside the crawlspace. With the relative humidity higher in this area than the home, due to the reasons stated above, there is a much higher chance of condensation when this air hits the cold stones. You may be seeing this only on the lowest areas in the crawlspace, because that is the coldest area and/or has the poorest air circulation.

The only real concern would be if the efflorescence is evidence that the soil near the bottom of the crawlspace is consistently wet. The way to determine that is to physically enter the crawlspace in the summer, pull away some of the stone covering and look for wet soil. It will easily be noticeable as squishy mud when walked on or compressed by hand. In that situation, there may be a problem with the weeping tile system or the sump. You should then consult an experienced Red Seal plumber or rooter technician to check the pump or do a video scope of the weeping tile to ensure they are draining properly.

A small amount of white, fluffy crystals on the surface of the pea gravel in your crawlspace is normally of little concern. Improving the air circulation and ventilation in that area may help, but otherwise this minor evidence of moisture is quite benign.

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
February 27

Renovation & Design

The bee's knees

Colleen Zacharias
February 27

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