Renovation & Design

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Renovation & Design

Wonky staircase a condo conundrum

Question — I live in a five-year-old townhouse condo, which has wooden stairs and a deck entering my front door. The first year I moved into my condo, my stairs were not level. Over the course of five years, my porch has dropped about seven centimetres. It’s pulling the vinyl siding off with it. I opened up the side of the porch to find very little room to see or get at the posts supporting the porch. These posts are not on piles or cement blocks, like my back stairs. Those had the same problem, which I fixed two years ago, with the leveling jacks they used. To describe the type of posts, the top has an angle supporting the beam, with a rod below that, connected to a U-channel embedded into the ground. It seems there may be a rod below that yet, that the channel is connected to. It is placed into the clay and very little crushed limestone.

Should these posts not have cement blocks supporting them, as with my back stairs? What I would like to know is if this is done properly and by code? And if not, what are my options? In order to fix this, I would have to take off my railing, deck boards, and remove a few joists to get at these posts and have enough room to apply more limestone and jack everything up.

— D. Brown

Answer: Repairing stairs, landings and decks on a condominium, which have settled, should be completed by experienced contractors, due to the safety concern if done improperly. For many condos, this should fall under a common element of the entire complex, which may only be partially your responsibility to maintain. Inquiring with the condo corporation board of directors for remediation should be your first and last steps in this potentially hazardous situation.

When a condominium is purchased in Manitoba, the seller is required to provide the buyer with up-to-date documents pertaining to various aspects of the building and corporation. One of the most important of these is the amount of money currently in the reserve fund, which is kept to pay for any major repairs and for items known as common elements. These common elements are portions of the entire complex that are jointly owned by everyone, such as hallways, sidewalks, driveways, roofs and most other items on the exterior of the buildings. It is also used for other costs associated with these common elements such as utilities, landscaping and other maintenance fees.

There should be further information in your condo documents outlining just what these common elements are and what is the responsibility of each individual unit owner. One reason for these rules to be defined is to maintain a consistent aesthetic to the entire complex. This is partially to prevent individual owners from choosing colours or products that are vastly different from their neighbour’s, which would give the complex a hodgepodge appearance if employed. Another consideration is for items such as your front deck and steps, which can be a major liability for the corporation if they are not safe.

I would suggest you find your condo documents that pertain to the common elements, and inquire with your condo board president about who is responsible for maintenance of the stairs. If it is indeed a collective issue, request that the condo board address this issue at its next meeting and hire someone to inspect the defect. If the board is reluctant, talk to your neighbours, as it is unlikely yours is the only unit affected. That should be followed by quotes from contractors and proper repairs. If the individual unit owners are required to keep the stairs in serviceable condition, then you should seek out a reputable general contractor for advice and a plan for repairs. There may also be requirements that the materials and design used for any future stairs match all the others, so keep that in mind if you are paying for upgrades.

As for the question about the original stairs being built to code, that issue is moot at this point in time. You are correct that any such structure should be constructed on solid footings, but that may vary considerably with each deck or stairs built. It is likely that the builder used concrete deck blocks or footings below the adjustable supports, but these have sunken into the soil and are now invisible. Lifting and levelling the stairs and deck may be possible by careful adjustment, but it is equally as likely that the support posts will simply sink further if the soil is not stable.

Until recently, the last several years have been extremely dry in our area, leading to major shrinkage in our clay-based soil. That, in addition to the soil around your home likely being fresh back-fill, is the probable cause of the settling stairs, not missing footings.

Because a defect in support for exterior stairs, decks, balconies and other similar structures can be a major safety hazard, repairs should be done with great care. It is not something you should take upon yourself, to prevent blame being directed upon you should someone get hurt after repairs are complete. That would normally be the burden of the condo corporation and board of directors, which are undoubtedly properly insured for such an occurrence.

Despite the inadequacy of the original supports for your townhouse condo’s front stairs and deck, levelling and repairs should not normally fall on your shoulders. Reviewing your condo documents should outline this issue, which is typically a common element. If that is the case, demanding timely inspection and repairs from your condo board is the correct course of action to make your stairs level and safe.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)(cahpi.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

Ari Marantz
August 13

Renovation & Design

Warm lemons are easier to squeeze

Question: How can I get more juice out of a lemon? David

Answer: A warm lemon will extract more juice than a cold lemon. Heat the lemon in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Next roll the lemon on the counter for 20 seconds before cutting and squeezing out the juice.

Question: How do you keep cats out of the garden and flower beds? Thank you, Reg

Answer: The main reason that cats are attracted to gardens is because they look and feel like the perfect place to ‘relax’. Exposed soil is just like kitty litter, so putting in additional plants to cover soil and covering exposed areas with pebbles or a thick bed of prickly roses or some cacti or chunky mulch around the perimeter of your yard and in your gardens is your first step. Of course, all cats are not the same, and what works for one may not work for another. The most effective remedy against cats in the yard is a fence, but that is not always an option. Another tidbit to keep in mind is that cats loathe snakes. For years, gardeners have had great success when placing artificial snakes around plants. Check out your local dollar store or cut up an old garden hose the length of snakes and put them around the yard.

If you happen to catch a cat in your yard, spray them with a spray bottle or a garden hose and accompany that with a firm “NO!” Some cats love water, but most hate it. Cats have a sense of smell 14 times greater than humans. They can decipher odours that humans cannot even detect. Therefore, planting rue, lavender, lemon, thyme, and coleus are also options.

Question: How to remove lily stamen powder from clothes? I accidentally brushed against a stem. I scrubbed a bit off my skin. Any hope for my tank top? Mary Ann

Answer: If the powder residue is dry, vacuum it. Spray shaving cream onto the area and gently rub. Soak the fabric in cold water. Launder in cold water. Air dry to ensure the stain is gone. Avoid putting stained clothing into the dryer because the heat of the dryer will set the stain. Repeat if needed.

Voices of experience

I have used scrunched up newspaper and then stuffed it in my shoes or boots when not in use. Great results. Also helps the boots to keep their shape over the winter. — Diane

If you are planning to store apples for an extended period, wrap each unwashed apple individually with a piece of newspaper and store inside a box, in a cool dark place such as the basement, refrigerator or your pantry. The newspaper is intended to prevent apples from contacting one another thereby protecting each apple. — Derek

To clean oven racks, place a towel in the bathtub. Lay the racks on the towel. Drop in three dishwasher tablets and fill the tub with hot water. Scrub the racks with a non-scratching abrasive cloth. Rinse with water. — Linda

Note: Do not leave water unattended when children are nearby.

To stop sprinkles on cupcakes or cookies from dissolving or bleeding, brush the top of each cupcake/cookie with corn syrup before dropping the sprinkles on top. — Dianne

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.ca.

info@reena.ca

Reena Nerbas
July 30

Renovation & Design

Cool basement can easily be made more comfortable

Question: Our house is a bungalow, with an open staircase going into the basement, and every time I go into our basement the thermometer indicates it is approximately three to four degrees Celsius cooler than the main floor. This is perfectly understandable, since cold air gravitates to the lowest level, while heat rises. I am wondering if there are any solutions that would stop the main floor cool air from dropping into the basement via the stairway, and of course the opposite occurs during the heating season. I did address this issue during the design stage of our home, but the builder could not come up with a solution, as the obvious option of adding a door at the top or bottom of the stairway was just not doable. I would be interested in knowing if you have any ideas one could consider to prevent this.

Thank you for your consideration, Lawrence Klippenstein.

Answer: Having a cooler basement than the upper floor of your home may not be fully under your control, but reducing that temperature differential may be possible with a few modifications or adjustments to your HVAC systems. These may help make the cooler basement more tolerable and within a level you can live with.

As you have stated, because cooler air will sink to the lowest level in a building, while warm air rises to the upper levels, a cool basement during hot summer days is a given. Using your air conditioning system to cool the living space can help keep your basement air dry and odour free, but can make that area uncomfortably cold. The normal coolness of the area below grade can be exacerbated by blowing large quantities of cold air through the heating ducts. Many homeowners will block these basement ducts, or the close the registers, during the warm summer months. That may prevent circulation of cool conditioned air, which is exactly the opposite action to take for your goal. By closing the registers, airflow through the ducts is reduced, which can lead to a clammy, damp feeling in the basement. That can also lead to mould growth and odours often associated with a musty basement.

The simplest thing to do to slightly warm up your basement during the cooling season is to increase the air circulation between the basement area and the warmer upper floor. If your basement heating ducts and registers are properly installed this may be achieved simply by turning your furnace fan on continuous operation. Instead of having the blower circulate air only when the thermostat turns on the heating or cooling cycle, which is normally the “auto” setting, changing it to “on” will achieve this goal. This should allow the blower to run at a reduced speed, but continuously circulate air through the entire duct system. That will allow the warmer air on your main floor to combine with the cooler air of the lower level, as each is drawn in to the return air ducting on the two levels. That air will then be pushed through all the heating ducts, mixing warm and cooler air from both locations, helping to equalize the temperature differential.

Once the temperature rises above the thermostat setting on the main floor, the cooling cycle will begin, which can lead to a larger differential, but should be temporary. Once the thermostat is satisfied, the condenser will turn off, the air conditioner coil will warm up and the blower will circulate slightly warmer air through the whole system. That will minimize the inequality between the colder basement and main floor air.

As stated above, this suggestion may only be effective if the basement duct system was properly designed, with proper return air ducts and registers. Many basements are finished well after initial construction, with multiple partition walls installed to make better use of the large space. There are usually enough warm air ducts and registers installed, but often the return air portion is forgotten. Unless you have a properly sized return air register and duct in each room in the basement, proper air distribution may not be possible. Resolving that deficiency may require partial removal of wall and ceiling coverings, and an experienced HVAC technician, to complete the installation of the return air system.

Leaving the stairway open should only help to improve the air circulation in your home, so that is a bonus not a negative factor, in your case. Moving around any furniture that will impede proper air movement in your basement can also help with your efforts. Especially if a large couch, bed, or dresser is blocking a return air register, move them out to allow proper airflow. Also, if there are too many heat registers in the basement ceiling, or if they are poorly located directly above a seating area, adjusting or redirecting the register may prevent cold air blowing directly on the occupants when the A/C is on. Otherwise, modifying the ducts and relocating the registers to better locations can be done by a HVAC tech.

Having a cooler basement than the main floor during the summer cooling season may be inevitable, but making it more comfortable can be achieved with a few changes to your normal HVAC settings and/or duct and register locations.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)(cahpi.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

Ari Marantz
July 30

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