Garden hose water shutoff: Best practices


Really?  Answer is Yes, there is a improper way to do this.  Do you mean turning off a shut0ff? Yes already, also we will explore some good practices for how the pipes should be laid out that are attached to that valve.

The most common error made is that the water shutoff valve is closed on the interior, but the existing water between the shut-off and the exterior valve (where your garden hose is attached to) is not bled out of the system.

First you must shut off the water from the inside, and then open the outside valve and let the water trickle out.  When the water is removed, you then close the outside valve Why?

As we know, when water freezes, it expands, and your pipes burst.  In contrast, frozen air does not expand, and your pipes are safe no matter the temperature of the air.  Pipe bursting is quite common, as copper is very thermally conductive, and has the potential for heat to be lost quite easily from this connection.


garden hose shutoff
This valve is closed and shut off properly. The bottom half of the valve goes to the exterior of the house, and water was bled out if it to fill it with air.   We are assuming that the space where the valve is located is conditioned and not in a crawl space.  Crawl spaces require extra precautions.


The farther your interior shut-off valve is from the external temperature exposure, the safer the pipes are.  This is all assuming that the location of the shut-off is in a conditioned space.  This is assuming that your penetrations are sealed with silicone at the cladding, and spray foam in line with the insulation.  The diagram above used an old rag.  I was there at it seemed pretty air tight.  Hats off!

shut off diagram
The farther the interior shutoff valve is from the exterior exposure, the safer the connection because the copper pipe has a larger chance of being heated the farther away it is from the exterior exposed air. It is also essential that you seal the penetrations with spray foam in plane with the insulation, and silicone at the cladding

By increasing the distance the pipe is filled with air, larger the chance it is heated by the ambient temperature.

There are specialty valves such as silicock valves can also work by shutting off the valve on the interior.  You need to make sure that your valve has a seal on both the interior as it is designed to do and the exterior.  I am not sure all silicock valves have a seal on the exterior.  If there is no seal on the exterior, it is useless as you need to create an air space between the two shut-off valves.   Remember that air spaces create insulation value.

Think of this system like a window.  We know that triple pane windows insulate better than double planes, not becuase the glass has insulating value, but the separation of the air or (argon) spaces.

The principle is the same with shut offs.  If your building envelope is constructed in such a way that you know is problematic, there is no reason you can separate you pipe into two air spaces like a triple pane window.  This method will be far more effective than  a single silicock valve.

two seperate air space v3
Two separate air spaces are better than one.  This method is far more effective than a single silicock valve

Is it overkill?  Depends on your home.  The main lesson here is think about these pipes are though you are trying to make it harder for the cold air from reaching the interior (technically, the heat from escaping).

Active Systems

Sometimes extra heat is required to keep the pipes from freezing.  Heat trace cables can be used which wraps around pipes and plumbing fittings.  For just a little extra money, you wish, you can connect them to a temperature controller that turns on the system at a particular temperature.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Try to create air spaces inside your pipes
  • Two air spaces are better than one! (Think of insulating like triple vs double paned windows)
  • Sealant around pipes are crucial to prevent windwashing
  • The larger your limiting distance, the larger the chance the pipes will be heated by ambient air.
  • This set of rules if for conditioned interiors only.  The air space principle can be applied for crawl spaces as long as you have a shutoff in the conditioned space
  • Heat trace cables can be used if your pipes if not enough heat can be drawn into the pipes and fittings

Ceramic tile floor cracking: Why the scratch coat method doesn’t work well

An uncoupling membrane sample.  This one is made by Schluter called Ditra
This is an uncoupling membrane sample. This one is made by Schluter called Ditra.  Uncoupling membranes are best practice for installing ceramic tile installations and the best alternative to scratch coats and backer board installs.  An example of a failed floor with a scratch coat is shown later in this article

The scratch coat method

One of the most common and outdated ceramic floor practices used today is the scratch coat method on top of sub-floors and wood joists.  Some people call it the “Jersey mud job”.   This seems to be the most common practice in Toronto for ceramic floors, and maybe Ontario as well.  Failure rates are relativity high within 5 to 10 years from what I have seen with some homes.  Homes with a decent sub-floor do last longer.  Why is this outdated method used?  The simple answer is construction economics and the use awareness of the use of uncoupling membranes is still not known by homeowners and most contractors.  The flooring trades in Toronto’s housing sector have a scratch coat culture that appears to be difficult to shake.

scrach coat
This mesh has been placed over plywood and the nails are bent over to hold it in place as an example of how a scratch coat is applied.  Usually roofing nails or staples are used (I didn’t have any roofing nails for the picture, sorry).   Afterwards, a layer of thinset mortar is troweled in place and allowed to set.  It is usually thin, maybe 1/8″ thick.  A real scratch coat would be using the galvanized steel lath that looks slightly different than this plastic one.

The scratch coat method secures the the ceramic tiles to the sub-floor and joists as best as possible.  It is the philosophy of maximum control of your building components and structure as a whole.  The firmer, the better.  This is similar to the philosophy of maximum vapour control of using polyethylene vapour retarders (barriers) anywhere you think you are controlling the movement of water vapour, which not surprisingly also doesn’t work that well.    The scratch coat is installed by using a sheet of metal wire that sort of looks like chicken mesh and nailing it down to the plywood sub-floor.  The nails are installed between the mesh and purposefully bent over top the mesh as to hold the mesh down tight to the sub-floor.  Thin set mortar is forced between the mesh, and when it sets, ceramic tiles can be installed as they have something else ceramic to bond to as it can’t bond to the metal.  The steel mesh was thought to control the expansive forces, removing the possibility of cracks.

The reason for this type of practice from what I have heard from installers is that they believe it is similar to the function of re-bar in concrete.  Many people assume that this is a good method because it “controls” the movement of ceramic tile, whatever that means.  We have all seen ceramic tiles in various houses where the tile has de-laminated  from the floor and has become loose at the grout or the tile has cracked in half.  When I ask a homeowner why do you think this happened, the assumption I often hear is somehow the tiles were not tightly adhered to the floor with cheap materials and a lot of mostly dumbfounded looks.  Although substandard material failures do happen, most often it not always the underlying reason why the floor tiles crack or de-laminate.   As I have mentioned in previous articles, your house moves for various reasons and ceramic products such as tile and grout don’t handle expansive forces well and must be taken into account when installing any new component in your home.

Lets look at the physics on why this total control philosophy doesn’t really work a little later on.

This is a cross section of a ceramic tile floor

ceramic floor v final
There is a bonding substrate between the tiles and the sub-floor. The bonding substrate is either made of a scratch coat, cement backer board, or an uncoupling membrane. It’s purpose is to combine compatible materials


Shower benches and knee walls: How to prevent water leakage

Greatly detailed knee wall.  There is an overhang, and a clear silicone drip edge created just under the lip.  If you have trouble seeing it, that’s a good thing.


It is all too common that in showers, water leaks into the wall causing damage to the studs insulation and substrate holding the shower in place.  This usually happens happens from a crack in the grout from where one shower wall meets another.  The leakage that usually causes this type of damage is very often a small of water adding every day as you take a shower and occurs over the course of months, years and possibly decades.    It can also happen between shower grout, but that usually occurs in older showers.  Usually.  But that will not be the focus of this article.

Do not use grout in shower wall corners or under benches

Grout cracks
Grout cracks due to inability to accommodate movement.  The crack is very small but it is enough to leak water in the walls.  This small leak can swell the wood structure causing the crack to become larger, and more water would enter.  Within a few months or years, a crack like this can soak the wood frame behind it to rot and cause mould.  Fortunately I caught it soon after installation, and fixed the problem wit a bead of silicone on top in addition to the silicone drip edge (discussed later)


The issue with grout is not so much that it cracks, but that is has no accommodation for expansion movement like any masonry based product. Every concrete building has steel rebar to counteract the expansion forces.  This has nothing to do with the way it was installed, it is just a characteristic of a home with a wood frame that moves with seasonal humidity fluctuations.  Everything moves even to such a small degree as seen in the photo above.  Look how small the horizontal crack is.   So during your installation, you must plan for this eventuality.  You might think bah, that crack is tiny, whats the worry?  I can tell you that it is big enough for water to enter, and that is all that matters.  This scenario leading to failure is more common than you may think.  The solution is  twofold.  Do not install grout in the corners flush to the tile because grout is so strong in compression, it does not allow for as much movement as no grout.  Those walls need the ability to move towards each other without the grout in the way.  It is possible that the surrounding tiles crack or adjacent grout joints to fail because of having the grout there.  The best solution is to put grout a small amount the corners, and not very deep.  The intention would be that the grout provides a substrate for your silicone sealant on top.  It helps provide continuity, but don’t expect it to stop water.

So how is that problem addressed?


It is actually quite simple and for those of you who have older showers, you can do this too. Just make sure your tiles are as clean as the day they were installed.  You must have no soap scum on the surface or it wont work, so give it a good scrubbing.  Just install thick dose of silicone sealant on top of that grout, and that should be the finished product.  It is definitely most difficult to tool the silicone over natural stones like this one, and doesn’t provides the cleanest look.  In this scenario the walls can move and the joint will not delaminate or crack as silicone can accommodate the movement.

This is not the cleanest look, but it give you less headaches in the future

Just a note about the silicone:  Quality tile stores sell acrylic sealant that closely matches the colours available.  That is great, but the only issue is that acrylic sealants don’t accommodate movement as well, and have a much smaller service life especially in regards to mould.  The mould will appear much quicker if it is in contact with a lot of water which looks disgusting.  This is not “A” brand vs “B” brand, it is just the properties of the acrylic, additives included.  Silicone is the best choice, however the palate is very limited to about five colours.  My favourite silicone is “GE silicone II” sold almost everywhere, but it is more expensive at about $5-6 each.  Two tubes should do an entire shower with some left over.  If your shower or bathtub drains correctly, the silicone can last upwards of 20 years or more.

Create a drip edge using silicone

Creating a drip edge such as this one (its hard to see because the silicone is clear)  allows the water to fall straight into the pan, as opposed to running down the wall

In addition to putting silicone in the corners, applying a bead of silicone under the edge of the lip creates a drip edge that ensures that water doesn’t run down the wall, but instead falls straight into the pan.  Don’t expect your contractor to do this unless you ask for it.  Drip edges are vitally important for reducing water entry into a wall.  Drip edges can also be created during the installation by cutting a thin line (saw blade thickness) on the underside of the tile where the lip is exposed.  I don’t like this method as much, because in a shower setting,  not everyone remembers to seal the tiles in the new crevasse that was created with the saw blade, which is hard to do.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Always use silicone in the corners of every shower
  • Silicone is better than acrylic sealant in terms of mould resistance
  • Dont use grout in the corners of the shower to the finished edge.  Given enough time, they will crack
  • Always overlap shower benches and knee wall lips
  • Create drip edges under knee walls and shower benches

Does the one coat solution of “top-tier” paint really work?

Big box store paints have appealing advantages to the average homeowner.  Yes, it is convenient to have all the items you need in one store.  At approximately $30-$40 per gallon for a supposedly top tier paint, the prices are competitive without question.  But on closer inspection, this deal is probably not so great.  I would like to point out at this time that many people, couldn’t careless about the quality of paint on their walls.   I think this is the case for good reason….who is really going to notice it?  It’s a fair question.  A better question is “Is someone else going to notice it?”.  It is curious characteristic of human nature that we only notice how bad something is when someone else points it out to you.  If you prefer your bliss, read another article.  If you to take bite of fruit from the paint tree of knowledge, read on.  Disclaimer:  painted fruit tastes funny, and is harmful to your health. Don’t bite it.  They belong on fridges pained by your niece or art by Paul Cézanne.

The one coat solution.  Why paint twice when you can paint only once?

It is appealing for sure.  Who in their right mind would choose to paint a room twice when you could do it once?  Honestly those people are suckers.  You could easily make fun of them for being out of touch with the latest paint technology.  “You paint a room like my grandparents, with lead!”.  Our culture is fixated on performing tasks faster whatever they may be.  The tag line goes something like “would you rather spend more quality time with your kids than painting?”.  It’s a fair point.  Can we really paint walls with only one coat, when we can paint it with two?.  Somewhere the idea was lost that maybe painting a room with your kids is better than for your kids.  Lets focus on the paint facts instead on what is ideally right.  If one coat is better that’s fine.  So let’s see if it is actually possible.

Here is the truth, paint, such as it is and how it is applied on walls today, with rollers, brushing and spraying will never…ever…be able to be applied effectively in one coat.  This has nothing to do with the chemical composition of the paint formula at all.  It has to do about the laws of physics, and the maximum thickness possible for one layer of paint before it gets too thick, and starts dripping off the wall.


Every wall you are going to paint has a texture that is not smooth as enamel or paint on car.  It is rough in texture, and has many crests and valleys.  This is a normal texture for a wall.  Below is a standard wall up close.  You can see the texture, and notice when a light is pointed almost parallel to the wall, the contrast is increased and you can really see the crests and valleys.

A black picture frame is on the left. The wall is pitted with crests and valleys.
A flashlight was shined parallel to the same wall as in the previous picture. You can really see the crests and valleys


This texture is even created on new drywall when the first coat of primer is applied.  Lets take a look at the existing conditions.  The following pictures is what the paint looks like if we look at the thickness of the materials only.  We will view a section through the wall in plan view (birds eye).  Notice that the tan/yellow coloured paint has crests and valleys like the previous picture.

Here is the tan / yellow coloured existing paint from the wall. The blue block represents the thickness of the drywall under the paint


Plumber’s putty or silicone around your toilet?

When installing a toilet, the final step involves creating a seal around the toilet to the floor.  Some plumbers use plumber’s putty, some grout the toilet to the floor and others use silicone sealant (caulk) for that final connection.  The application of silicone is much quicker and experienced plumber can probably do it in just a few minutes, where the plumber’s putty may take more effort and time.

You can see the plumber’s putty line. It is tan coloured, and slightly dirty.


If you have any young children who like to flush things down the toilet, you may have to remove the toilet to remove a toy, or even car keys.  This is a very common issue.  The silicone sealant, can be cut really easily with a sharp knife, but when you have to put the toilet back on the floor, the old silicone is stuck to the toilet and floor, and can be really difficult to remove.  Yes, you must remove the old silicone before you put the toilet back on.  Don’t forget to use a silicone remover to remove the residue left behind on the toilet and the floor.  A product called “Silicone be gone” by DAP is a good product and is available at most hardware stores.  The biggest advantage to silicone is that the product is very sticky and is easy to achieve a good seal around the toilet.

Plumber’s putty

The putty provides a little bit of  stability in preventing your toilet from rocking back and forth ever so slightly when you sit on it (or stand).  The only issue is if the toilet is not tightly secured to the toilet flange and rocks, your seals is gone, where silicone may be a bit more forgiving, but not much.  You also have to contend with the fact that the putty gets dirty after a few years.   Also, the putty will dry out slightly after a few years, and shrinks ruining your seal.  If this really bugs you, you can always shave the surface with a knife and apply a fresh layer on top.  It takes about 10 minutes to do that.


This is something I have only encountered recently. It provides a perfect fit. Yes its a great seal, but how the heck will I ever be able to remove it?

I have recently switched to using silicone as a preferred method due to the fact that it maintains the best seal against sewer gases entering the home.  The cost?  A tube of quality silicone costs about $6.  The putty costs about $2.50 for a small container, so cost should not be an issue when considering this purchase.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Silicone is easier to install, but more difficult to remove when servicing against plumber’s putty.
  • Silicone provides better seal to the floor during installation due to stickiness, and has better resistance to expansion after it sets, which for both reasons, it my preferred method.
  • Don’t use grout.  Ever.

Which Furnace Filter is right for you? Are washable filters the most environmentally consious choice?

You may ask yourself, do I have the technical know how to determine what is best for my HVAC system?  The answer is a definite yes, it is not difficult, but will take a little bit of reading to understand how the system works.

Why you should care

Forced air HVAC systems require a cartridge “media” style furnace filter for my furnace.  We know what they look like.  The packaging usually says “16x25x1 or 20x25x1.”  When you go to the big box store, there are so many furnace filter types and it is easy to get little overwhelmed from what seems should be a really simple choice.  To complicate matters, HVAC experts can’t agree on what is the best method of filtration as there is a wide difference of opinion.  I think this is attributed to the fact that a “one size fits all” solution does not really exist.  Who cares honestly? Well you should, the type of filter can affect the life of your furnace, your health, and the energy efficiency of your system as a whole.  It is possible that your 95% efficient furnace with a variable speed ECM motor can consume the same amount of natural gas as a 92% furnace because of poor airflow or using the wrong filter.  It’s a bold statement.   More often than not, the most expensive disposable filters are not necessarily the best choice for the average homeowner’s furnace.   The analogy I would use is filling your car with 92 octane gasoline, when the car manufacture specifies 87 in the owners manual.  Despite that many people feel 92 octane is cleaner and therefore better for their car is a misconception which is still debated to this day the same as furnace filter quality.

Who is going to cough first from poor air quality, you or your HVAC system components?

Indoor air quality needs for a person is not necessarily the same as the HVAC system component needs.  Those two different needs are far too often blurred as the same requirement.  Furnace components are expensive to replace.   They can and sometimes do fail prematurely by getting dust trapped in the blower, heat exchanger or air-conditioning coils.  This is especially the case with ECM variable speed motors in 95% efficient furnaces, as they are prone to failure if it is running at full speed for weeks at a time.  This is far longer than a variable speed is designed to run. You can be surely kicking yourself for not spending only a little bit of time once in your life to learn about filters and $5 t every three months on the proper filter for your system, so listen good.

At first, I found it hard to find good information because there are a lot of useless marketing out there about your HVAC systems requirements.  It is easy to get confused from what should be a simple choice to buy their product.  As mentioned before, the requirement for a furnace/air-conditioning  filter to function properly is not necessarily the same as the requirements that a human has to feel comfortable.  What I mean by this, is your filter can be doing it’s job properly, but you may be sneezing from pet dander.  Obviously in that scenario, you don’t have a good enough filter.  Or in a different scenario, possibly your furnace model can be sensitive to particulate matter and running too often with high static pressure, and you are a rough and tough human being affected by the extra particulate matter in the air, and you don’t feel the difference.  Just know that your requirements are not necessary the same as the furnace’s.

Home Improvement Blog With A Taste Of Environmental Conscience. It Tastes Good.

Type of home improvement →  long term mindset

This blog is to educate homeowners on all matters regarding how their building works.

I also want to focus on methods of fixing your house that has an environmentally conscious element to it.    This is not exclusively the type of green where when you buy a product that advertises “green” or “eco” on the label, and where the homeowner gets satisfied that they did the right thing.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have that satisfaction, but it is even better to know that the process of your home repair is well thought out, that you are trying to do the best you can.  It is far more important that you are taking into account the long term effects of you current home improvement choice, than just basing your design on picking that “green” product.