Renovation & Design


Coming to a retailer near you

Brandi Johnson:


Renovation & Design

Go with high-quality pleated filters

Question: We’ve had many warmer winters since 2008 and the HRV intake frost problem described to you then was not always apparent, but in 2017, we happened to be home all winter and the old problem reared its ugly head again. This was long after your advice was followed to have the furnace/HRV installer check all fittings for the intake and exhaust hose. No air leaks were found, but hose connections were all resealed with tape.

I removed the quarter-inch wire mesh from the HRV intake hood and enlarged the mesh openings to a half-inch, to no avail. I then purchased mesh with three-quarter-inch openings and installed it, also without success. Eventually, I installed mesh with one-inch openings, with the same results. When the temperature drops below the -25 C range, the mesh plugs up solid with ice crystals within 24 hours after cleaning it.

I made a much larger rodent mesh with half-inch square openings. I don’t know what the smallest proper size would be to make this work, so I chose to make it bigger instead of smaller. And when the temperature was -25 C with over 50 per cent humidity outdoors, there was no sign of buildup of ice crystals anywhere on the rodent guard. I also added spray foam around the HRV intake hose between the joists, even though that had been done professionally at the time the house was built in 2007.

Now, on to the next tough question: what is your opinion about furnace floor-vent filters to reduce dust in the house? We had one bad experience with furnace duct cleaning and don’t relish the idea of doing that again. Are there other ways to reduce the floating and circulating dust in the house? We have an electronic air cleaner that is cleaned regularly, which doesn’t seem to be adequate.

Thank you in advance.

— Lawrence Klippenstein

Answer: It is always nice to hear an update on advice from a previous column. Also, using floor-vent filters may help a little in reducing dust, but the best option is to replace your electrostatic filter with high-quality disposable pleated filters, which are changed frequently. That will be a lot less effort and should work just as well, if not better.

I suspect changing the mesh size on the HRV intake-vent hood may have had some benefit in reducing or preventing frost accumulation, but the upgraded insulation may be the true saviour. If the existing fibreglass insulation, wrapped in plastic, was wet, damaged or had holes, warm air from the home may have leaked into the duct. If this warm, wet air contacts the incoming cold air, condensation is almost certain. Blowing foam insulation around the duct in that area may have helped prevent any warm-air leakage, minimizing the moist air that causes the frost.

As for installation of individual filters in floor registers for your heating system, I don’t think there would be much opposition from HVAC contractors, as long as you did not want them to install these items. There are no pre-manufactured filters that I know of and all would have to be retrofitted by cutting some form of filter material or fabric to fit each register or heating boot. During the course of regular pre-purchase inspections, I have seen some homeowners attempt this, presumably by themselves, but I don’t know if they have been effective. On the other hand, if you have a small electric air filter, which slides into a standard one-inch slot in the return-air ducting, then changing that may be the simple answer.

Most of the one-inch-thick electrostatic filters I see are not functioning properly or effectively. This could be due to poor maintenance and cleaning by the homeowners, but more likely, it is inherent in the products. Any type of furnace filter designed to be cleaned may be subject to poor performance over time, due to typical wear and tear or just a lack of attention to detail. Once dirty and plugged up, these filters may never regain their original performance. So, unplugging your unit and replacing it with a high-quality disposable pleated filter should be the simplest and least costly option. You will have to remove, discard and replace the filters every couple of months, but that may be a small cost for the improvement in dust management.

Putting individual filters on all the registers in your home will be a very time-consuming effort, at moderate cost, especially if you replace them regularly. You are probably much better off tossing out your old cleanable electrostatic filter and using regularly replaced, inexpensive pleated filters to prevent excessive dust in your home.

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 
July 6

Renovation & Design

The secret to non-stick breading

Question: I love to eat breaded meat. How can I prevent breading from sticking to the pan? All the best. 

— Tanis

Answer: The key is to use two steep pans and a bowl. Fill the first pan with flour. Put beaten eggs into the bowl. The second pan should be filled with dry bread crumbs, seasoning and a teaspoon of lemon-pepper, salt and Parmesan cheese. The flavour is all on the outside, and you want the taste to last for the entire chew. Put the meat into each bowl. Pat firmly. Flip each piece over and repeat. Put the meat uncovered, in a single layer, in the fridge for an hour or so. The egg seems to evaporate, and you are left with a nice crust before you even cook it. Either pan fry in a mix of a little oil and butter, or olive oil. Baking works well with stuffed chicken, but tends to get a little gooey on the bottom unless you place the meat on a greased wire rack.


Question: How can I remove the stale smell from my terry dishwashing cloths? They are coloured, so I do not want to use a lot of bleach as it will take the colour away, although I know it will remove the sour smell. Is there something I can do that will remove the bad odour but not the colour? Thank you. 

— Ann

Answer: Toss them in the dishwasher (away from heating coil) to kill bacteria and leave dish clothes smelling fresh. Or, a less risky solution for keeping the colour is to soak them in vinegar for a few hours and wash as usual.


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: Ask a question or share a tip at

Reena Nerbas
June 29

Renovation & Design

Mirrors, mirrors on the wall

Typically a final pit stop to check your look before you run out the door, mirrors serve an important function in most homes. They can be simple and subdued, or artful, ornate statement pieces. We asked some experts for advice on making the most out of them.

Bigger is better

To maximize a mirror’s impact and create a focal point on a wall, consider a large mirror. "I would go one size larger than you would originally expect," says Utah-based interior designer Andrea West, owner of Andrea West Design.

"When you go a little bit larger in your scale, it makes it look so much more dramatic, continues the line of vision and it really visually expands the space."

To open up a small, cramped bathroom, West installed floor-to-ceiling mirrors, drawing the eye upward to create the illusion of sky-high ceilings. But when positioning a mirror over a piece of furniture, West recommends expanding up but not out: a mirror should not be wider than the piece it’s hanging over.

If a large mirror doesn’t work, smaller mirrors can be beautiful and striking. Tricia Huntley, founder of D.C.-based firm Huntley & Co. Interior Design, says a single small mirror on a wall can have a strong effect and create an intimate experience.

If this is the effect you’re after, she cautions against crowding the surrounding wall space with other objects. "Multiples don’t make a small space feel bigger," she says.

Positioning is key

Mirrors can help make spaces feel larger because light reflects off the glass and back into the space.

Huntley likes to hang mirrors opposite windows to take advantage of natural lighting, but if you don’t have a window in your room, positioning a mirror near a light fixture will achieve a similar effect.

West advises positioning mirrors opposite a room’s entryway.

This "greeting technique" is commonly deployed to make small and narrow entryways and hallways feel more expansive.

Be sure to hang the mirror opposite something you would like to see reflected back.

"Put it opposite the reflection of something that would normally make you really happy," Kim Vargo, co-founder of the Yellow Brick Home blog, says.

"You probably wouldn’t want to bounce it off your closet doors if you just have bi-fold doors."

Don’t hang it too high

Although you might want to draw the eye upward to make ceilings appear higher, you don’t want people craning their necks to look into the mirror.

"When it’s too high, it makes the room feel more disconnected," West says.

"When you bring it slightly lower, you feel more intimate in the space." The size of the mirror, not its height, is what makes a room appear taller, she says. Scott Vargo, co-founder of Yellow Brick Home, hangs mirrors at about eye level, with the centre of the frame about 48 or 50 inches from the floor.

For a pulled-together look, Jackie Harris, who runs Puckhaber Antiques in London with her son Martyn Fowler, advises against cluttering and leaving large gaps between a furniture piece and the mirror.

Complement and contrast

There are no unbreakable rules when it comes to decorating with mirrors. To achieve a personal, collected look, West considers a room’s existing furnishings. She tends to go for opposites: in very angular spaces, she chooses rounder mirrors.

"When you do have a lot of clean lines in your furniture, I would bring in a more ornate mirror that adds more personality and detail," she says.

If you don’t find a mirror you love in stores, try a yard sale. Picking up interesting frames and pairing them with newer glass is a relatively cheap DIY project that the Vargos have used to create several custom mirrors in their home.

If you find a great antique frame, Harris recommends an aged mirror plate to complete the look. (Check antiques stores and garage sales and contact glass shops.)

Don’t be afraid to mix materials, either.

Huntley mixes metals in many projects for a curated look, and suggests getting metals that "have patina instead of very simple finishes."

West also encourages mixing materials such as metals and wood; you can ground seemingly disparate pieces by looking for the same undertones.

Multiple simple mirrors in a room can look chic. Vary the sizes and shapes, but don’t allow them to reflect each other, Scott Vargo warns.

This creates an unsettling fun-house effect.

Protect your investment

Although hanging and choosing mirrors can be a daunting task, keeping them clean and usable shouldn’t be. "They’re really low maintenance, and they’re best left alone," Fowler says. If a mirror does get dusty, Harris recommends dusting with a feather duster or using a small amount of window-cleaning solution on the plate.

And if you’ve bought a very heavy or valuable piece, experts say, you might want to call in a professional to help hang your mirror.

If hanging isn’t feasible, consider propping a large, heavy mirror up against a wall.

Just make sure it’s secure and not in a high-traffic area where it could be knocked over.

— Washington Post

Helen Carefoot
June 29

Browse Homes

Browse by Building Type