Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Keep moisture out of your basement with these three steps

Questions: I’m sure that I must be one of many homeowners with the same question. Last September we moved into our new house in Ridgewood West from the temperate climate of British Columbia. I am worried about the very deep snow drifts in the back yard, and to a lesser extent between my neighbours, and the basement window wells. For the upcoming spring thaw, other than extending the sump pump discharge pipe to the roadside, what other measures do I need to take to avoid inside water penetration for my house?

Regards, John Mason

Answer: Prevention of water from melting snow entering your foundation should be addressed long before the first snow falls. Maintaining good grading, snow clearing, and roof water management are the keys to a dry basement in the spring.

I commend you on your pro-active approach to prevention of problems relating to moisture issues, possible during next year’s spring thaw. For several years, we have had below average precipitation, especially winter snow. Last winter’s record snowfall came as a bit of a wake-up call for many homeowners who experienced wet basements, many for the first time, when all that snow melted. After the weather warmed up, significant rainfall also contributed to oversaturation of our soil, which caused even more basement seepage. This caused most reputable foundation contractors to become overwhelmed, with many not able to keep up with the demand for their services. Some homeowners may still be waiting until next spring for their already booked excavation and repairs from last year. If a recurrence of last winter’s frequent snowfall is seen, that delay may even grow.

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening to your home? The simple answer is to have a good maintenance plan for water management on the exterior of your house. This begins with ensuring that your eavestroughs and downspouts are in good condition, and clear of debris. Because of the location of that system, high above the ground, we often don’t realize there is a problem until a heavy rainfall happens. Before the temperature drops, in the autumn, and the snow arrives, a good inspection of this critical water management system should be done. This will require climbing up on a well-secured ladder to visually inspect all the gutters.

Any loose or sagging sections should be re-secured and broken brackets or fasteners replaced. Sometimes these troughs loosen due to cracks or other deterioration to the fascia behind. In that situation, moving the brackets a few centimeters laterally may allow you to easily reattach it to more solid wood backing. If the fascia is all rotted, due to deteriorated roofing or other defects, removal and replacement of the eavestroughs may be warranted. Once the troughs are all secure and properly sloped, the next stage is to ensure they are clear and clean.

In many areas, especially with lots of mature trees, the eavestroughs will become blocked, primarily at the drops above the downspouts. Clearing out this tree litter, and other debris like shingle granules, normally requires some manual labour. Use a good pair of waterproof gloves, and a trowel or other small garden tool, to scoop out the soggy gunk from the bottom of all the troughs. This can be deposited in an old garbage can, paper leaf bag, or other container, and left out for the city’s yard waste disposal pickup during the appropriate season. This will ensure it is composted at the landfill site and not just added to household garbage. Alternatively, you can dump it into your own composter, as long as it is not full of roofing granules. Washing the troughs with your hose nozzle, inside and out, after clearing should help ensure they are debris-free and the downspouts are properly draining.

The next area of concern with regard to basement leakage is the grading of the soil around the entire home. Most houses will have good grading and effective swales when they are newly built, but that will quickly change due to erosion and compaction, over the first few years after completion. To compensate for this, regular regrading with new topsoil, granular fill, and other landscaping materials will be needed. Ensuring you move your sump pump discharge hose to different areas of your yard, as you have noted, will help extend the life of the grading efforts. Also, regular seeding of grass or other low vegetation in these areas will help hold the soil in place and prevent erosion and excess drying in the summer.

The final piece of the dry basement puzzle is good snow removal. If we have a winter like last year, or even a moderate one with high winds, drifting of snow beside the foundation is a concern. Clearing away snow sitting directly on the foundation walls, or inside filled window wells, should be done regularly throughout the winter. Once spring warming begins, removal of thick snow to the front or back of your property should help further. It will minimize excess moisture that may pool on the frozen ground, and also facilitate quicker thawing of the soil. This may be accomplished with a powerful snowblower, or manually with a good old-fashioned shovel and sled.

Keeping your basement high and dry next spring will depend on a couple of maintenance factors accomplished last fall, good grading and eavestrough maintenance. The third item to help this task is to remove excess snow from directly around the house, just as the spring thaw begins. Paying attention to these three details should certainly help prevent moisture intrusion through the foundation, as the weather warms.

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
December 10


Renovation & Design

Simple soap and water best bet for cleaning kitchen cupboards

Question: Can you tell me the best way to wash factory painted dark kitchen cabinets please? Rose

Answer: When you speak to most kitchen experts, they typically recommend that you avoid using any product other than dish soap and water, to regularly clean wooden cupboards.

Question: I enjoy your columns very much in the Winnipeg Free Press! I hope you can help me with this problem. I have a big Christmas snowglobe with a lovely, detailed decoration inside the snowglobe. The exterior of the snowglobe is also beautifully decorated. However, the water inside the snowglobe has turned yellow. Can you refer me to someone or a business who can fix this issue? I’m not very handy, but if it is a simple solution, I may be able to tackle it. This snowglobe has a lot of sentimental value and if it can be fixed, I would be very happy and grateful. Thank you so much! Norma

Answer: Calling all Manitoba snowglobe experts! Does anyone have expertise in repairing a snow globe? If so, please send me an email: If the snowglobe is electrical, you may be able to empty it, and then fill it with fresh, distilled water, using a turkey baster, but this may be risky.

Question: How do I get rid of stains on my white polyester Christmas napkins after they were dried in the dryer?

Answer: Polyester is my favourite fabric, as it is as tough as nails! Since they were dried in the dryer, the easiest, fastest and cheapest solution is to fabric dye the napkins. Choose any colour including white and follow the instructions on the box. Fabric dye may be purchased at some dollar stores, departments stores and craft supply stores. Another option is to boil the napkins for five minutes in a stainless-steel pot with half cup of washing soda and eight cups water. Fabric safe bleach products are also an option.

Avocado storage warning

Storing cut avocados in a container of water is a new trend, but please do not store your avocados this way, as this option can promote bacteria growth. Instead, cut the fruit open and squeeze the exposed area with a little lemon juice. Wrap the fruit using plastic wrap. You can also store avocado slices in the freezer after cutting the fruit and removing the skin.

Company’s coming

I clean my stainless-steel appliances using equal parts olive oil and vinegar. Wipe with a soft microfiber cloth to get rid of streaks and fingerprints. — Lynda

I have an older stainless-steel sink, which was quite stained. I made a paste of equal parts dish soap and baking soda and spread it all over the sink. I then scrubbed it with an S.O.S pad until I covered every inch, then I rinsed the sink, it now looks new again. — Quinton

Clean your coffee grinder using raw rice. Put one-quarter cup of rice into the blender, and blend until it is powder. Dump out the powder and rinse the blender. — Sarah

Sugar cookie hack: roll out your cookie dough between two pieces of parchment paper on your baking sheet, before setting the pan in the fridge to chill. This way the dough is easy to work with and will not stick to your counters. Once chilled, cut out cookies, and remove the excess dough. Since you don’t need to move the cookies before baking, this will help the cookies hold their shape. — Maria

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?

Reena Nerbas
December 10

Renovation & Design

The gift of flowers

Colleen Zacharias
December 3

Renovation & Design

Baking soda and vinegar will make washing machine sparkle

Question: Do you have a homemade solution for cleaning a front-loading washing machine? Betty

Answer: It is a good idea to check the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning the machine. My favourite solution is to pour half cup of baking soda along with four-cups of white vinegar into the machine. Run the machine with a load of towels. Washing soda as a substitute for baking soda will leave you with an even better finish, but it is sometimes difficult to find in stores.

Question: What can I do to reduce the frizz and static of my hair during winter months? Thank you, Louise

Answer: Using a piece of aluminum foil, smooth your hair. You can also use a fabric softener sheet in the same manner. Extra tip: If your fabrics are clinging to you, swipe them with a wire hanger.

Question: Is a ceiling fan meant to cool or heat a room? When purchasing a fan what should I look for in terms of blade length?

Answer: A good quality ceiling fan can cool a room, eight degrees or more, not by lowering the temperature of the room, but by making the room feel cooler. In the same way, when a fan is reversed the room will feel warmer because as the air is distributed, hot air rises.

Fan blades should be between 52 and 42 inches. The larger the room, the longer the blades should be.

Feedback worth noting

Re: Make boxed pancakes taste homemade

I never use boxed pancakes because I have a super easy recipe used by my whole family. I love fluffy pancakes and have three tips. Don’t over stir the batter when mixing, and let the batter sit for a few minutes so the baking powder starts working. Try not to disturb the batter too much when scooping it out onto your preheated griddle.

Jean’s Fluffy Pancakes

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (or a combination of white and whole wheat)

3 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups milk

3 tbsp. melted butter or vegetable oil

1/4 tsp. vanilla

Stir flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Beat egg thoroughly, add milk. Make a well in the centre of dry ingredients; slowly add the egg-milk mixture. Add melted butter and vanilla. Stir quickly until ingredients are just mixed and batter is still lumpy in appearance. Drop by one quarter cup onto the hot griddle. Cook until pancakes are filled with bubbles and under surface is golden brown. Flip and brown bottom.

We usually cook a double batch, so we have some for freezing and toasting. My grandkids enjoyed these as smaller (silver dollar) pancakes made by their parents. An easy start to toddler breakfast on busy mornings. — Jean

Bring on the Holiday Decorating!

I use zip ties or clothes pins to hang Christmas lights outside. They are cheap, easy to use and don’t leave marks. — Elmer

I utilize garden tomato cages decorated with mini-Christmas lights. I turn them upside down so that they look like mini trees. I have them, why not use them to line my entire driveway? — Marge

Use old Christmas decorations and secure them to an old sweater, to create your entry into an ugly Christmas sweater competition. — Louise

Use pieces of cheap orange, black and red construction paper to decorate your white fridge to look like a snowman. — Louise

In the bathroom, pile three rolls of towel paper, one on top of the other. Place a toque on the top roll. Glue eyes, and an orange nose onto the top roll, to look like a snowman. Cut out black circles for the buttons and the mouth, glue them to the rolls. Use pipe cleaner for the arms. — Louise

Tie one red ribbon, the length of your door, and one ribbon around the width of the door to intersect in the middle. Add a giant bow in the middle to look like a wrapped gift. This inexpensive and easy trick makes a really, big showstopper. — Adam

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? Email

Reena Nerbas
December 3

Renovation & Design

Lower relative humidity in home to reduce moisture

Questions: I was hoping you would be able to guide me through my current home dilemma. Recently, my husband was looking behind our TV stand, thinking something had been shoved behind it. He noted that the flooring behind the stand was covered in moisture. To give you some perspective, the TV stand sits against an exterior wall of the house. There are no windows on this wall. The moisture appears to only sit near where the floor meets the wall, directly under the TV. We’ve wiped it and dried it as best as we can, but the moisture appears to return. I’m certain it’s linked to the cold weather. I haven’t noticed the issue near any other wall, and the wall on the outside seems unchanged. The inside humidity is sitting around 50 per cent. What could this be caused by and how do I stop it from happening? Thanks, Ash.

Answer: Moisture inside a home with no apparent reason is almost certainly caused by condensation of air in the home, when it contacts a surface cold enough to condense. The key to eliminating this issue is to maintain a lower relative humidity in the home, and better air circulation, to prevent this from reoccurring.

Despite answering an inquiry of a similar nature from a reader about a month ago, I felt this issue was so important to understand the mechanism behind the mysterious moisture, that I would address it again. The issue of condensation related moisture is definitely increasing in our homes, due to better tightening of the building enclosure, and greater efforts toward energy efficiency. The more airtight our homes become the more issues related to our indoor environment become prevalent.

To start this discussion, we should first address the scientific principles behind indoor air humidity issues. These basic facts tell us that the higher the amount of dissolved moisture in the air, the less temperature drop is needed for it to condense. This is often described as the dew point, which is the temperature at which water vapour will precipitate out from the air. So, a higher relative humidity (RH) inside the home will require a smaller temperature drop, or higher dew point, to form condensation on a colder surface. Maintaining lower RH in the indoor air will make condensation more infrequent, as much colder surfaces will be required for it to happen.

In our homes our daily routines produce a significant amount of moisture that becomes dissolved in the indoor air. This includes cooking, bathing, drying clothes, breathing, cleaning, and other normal daily activities. In older homes, with minimal insulation, poorly sealed windows and doors, and limited air/vapour barriers, this humid air would leak out to the exterior environment. Also, it would normally be replaced with colder, dryer air, which would leak in through the building enclosure in much the same manner. This replacement air, combined with the exfiltration of the humid air, will lower the indoor moisture content of the air. This will lower the RH in the home, preventing excess moisture issues.

In newer homes, or older homes that have been retrofitted with new windows and doors, increased attic and wall insulation, new furnaces, and other upgrades, the building enclosure no longer lets air in and out easily. Because of this, much more of the moisture produced by the occupants stays in the air, significantly raising the RH. As stated above, a higher RH raises the dewpoint, allowing condensation on a surface that is closer to the normal indoor temperature. For your home, this is the cold exterior wall or floor behind the TV stand. That area may be cooler because that location is letting in some cold air infiltration, or simply because it in contact with the cold outside environment. So, when the warm house air hits the floor or wall in that location, it reaches the dew point and condensation occurs on the cold surfaces. That may be happening in other areas, but the moisture may be easily reabsorbed into the air if there is good circulation. Because your cabinet is near the wall, there is limited air circulation, allowing the condensation to remain until it becomes problematic.

One part of the solution may be to pull the TV stand away from the exterior wall, to allow better airflow between the colder wall and the furniture. This may also warm the surfaces slightly, helping to prevent the condensation. Taking off the baseboard and caulking or blowing foam insulation into any gaps between the floor and wall plate can also help by preventing cold air leakage from outside. But, the main course of action to prevent the problem is to lower the RH in the indoor air. Fifty percent RH is way too high in the heating season, at normal room temperature. You will surely see water vapour on your windows in that situation, as well as other areas. Lowering the RH to a normal range of 30 – 35 percent in winter will significantly reduce the chance of a reoccurrence. This can often be accomplished by extended use of exhaust fans and the kitchen range hood, as long as they are all functioning and vented to the exterior. In more serious situations, installation of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) with a dehumidistat control will allow you to maintain the lower RH simply be setting it accordingly.

Preventing moisture from accumulating behind your TV stand can be accomplished by lowering the RH in the home, which will improve the indoor air quality, overall. Sealing any drafty areas in the outside wall and moving the cabinet away from the wall will also improve air circulation, aiding quick evaporation and reabsorption of any small amounts of condensation that may occur before it causes damage.

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
December 3

Renovation & Design

Soap, baking soda and SALT will get pans gleaming

Question: My frying pans are pretty old, and the bottoms are blackened. Is there an easy way to clean them, or are they beyond saving? Thank you, Frankie

Answer: No need to toss usable cookware. Turn the pan upside down and sprinkle the bottom with a liberal amount of salt, baking powder and dish soap. Lay dishcloths on the surface and pour vinegar onto the area. Wait for 15 minutes and scrub with a scrubby cloth.

Question: Can you tell me how to easily clean the oven window?

Answer: While the oven is off, open the door. Sprinkle the window with baking soda. Pour hot water onto the glass and scrub with crumpled up aluminum foil. Wipe with a good quality microfiber cloth.

Question: How can I reduce the mess on my baking sheets when cooking bacon? S.J.

Answer: Double line the pan with aluminum foil to cut down on the mess.

Question: I would like to bake many apple pies to give away at Christmas. Is there a fast way to peel the apples, using a potato peeler? S.J.

Answer: Slice off the top and bottom of the apple. Stand the apple on your counter on one of the sliced sides. Hold your potato peeler against the top section of the apple. Turn the apple continuously, the peel should fall off in one long strip.


Re: Pilling

I don’t have a tool to remove pilling on sweaters, so I use a pumice stone. Rub the fabric with the stone and then use a lint roller to pick up the little pills. — Jesse

I use a razor to clean up the pilling on sweaters because I’m too cheap to purchase a pilling tool. By the way, I store the blade of my razor inside a binder clip so that I don’t accidentally cut myself when I’m not using the razor. Joyce

Update Re: Lingering Coffee Smell in Contigo Mug

I used the newspaper solution and stuffed the mug. I left it for 48 hours, not much improvement. I changed the newspaper (which I secured with an elastic band) and left if for a few more days — still not a great improvement. Changed it again and then forgot about it (over a week). Some improvement. Changed it once again and left it for another week, maybe more. The result — I would say the coffee smell and taste has been 98 per cent removed. Persistence prevailed! So thank you very much for your great advice. I am very pleased. Best wishes, Lesley

Bring on the Holiday Baking!

Did you know? The word cookie is derived from Dutch, and it means, little cake.

The most popular cookie in Canada? You guessed it, your favorite and mine the never disappointing chocolate chip cookie!

But…do you know what is even better than homemade chocolate chip cookies? Nutella stuffed chocolate chip sandwich cookies. Bake cookies as usual, cool, and then spread or pipe Nutella on the bottom of one cookie. Add another cookie on top to create a sandwich. Yum!

Prevent gingerbread house pieces from falling apart by holding them together with edible glue. Melt sugar in a pot until brown. Be cautious not to burn the sugar. Dip the edge of each piece in the melted sugar and hold them in place for a few seconds before letting go. Royal icing is another edible glue option.

Storebought, boxed sugar cookie dough will give you the option of adding butter or margarine to the mix. Always choose butter, this will give your cookies a more authentic flavor. Chill dough before rolling and cutting it out, this helps cookies hold their shape.

When baking cookies, begin with room temperature ingredients.

For perfectly even, shortbread cookies, place the dough inside a large, open, sealable bag. Roll out the dough until it is a square, press it into all four corners. Chill in the fridge. Remove from the bag. Slice, or shape cookies, and then bake.

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? Email

Reena Nerbas
November 26

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