Garden hose water shutoff: Best practices

IMG_3354

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

 

Expired sealants and caulking: Check them like eggs.

caulking gun

We don’t think to look, but sealants (caulking) do expire so check the date before you buy.  Most companies will put an expiry date on the sealant itself.  When buying a loaf of bread or eggs, usually you can push the date a little if need be, but I don’t advise that with sealants or construction adhesives, especially with silicone.  Old silicone has the tendency of not curing properly.  What happens is after you apply the silicone, it is still “wet” and never cures.  Save yourself some trouble and dispose of old sealants. Usually the sealants are good for about 12 months or so.   Some other less expensive sealants like acrylic (alex plus is a good example) have a similar shelf life, however from my experience, you can push it a little longer if you expect little movement in your application as the acrylic tends to set (dry out) rather than stay wet as with silicone.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Check the expiry date of all sealants
  • Don’t use expired sealants, or you will end up having to clean it up.

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

Sanding Hardwood Floors? Test for lead first, and remove it safely

How to test for lead

Recently, It was time to sand some floors as the wear level was low.  Some hardwood floors installed 1977 or before contained lead in the finishing layer.  Having lead in the floors was very regional and installer specific.  Some areas of North America never had any lead used in the finish at all.  Some people liked to use lead, some didn’t.  I went to my local hardware store and bought a lead test kit at about $10.  Make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area, maybe in a closet where the finish has not been disturbed too much.  After my test was complete, it was very apparent that there was a positive result as you can see from the photo.  If you get a positive result, it is a good idea to get that result verified from an environmental testing company.  In this case, a piece was ripped out from the hardwood from the closet.  I had dropped it off at my local environmental testing company, who verified a 1% lead content.

The dangers of sanding floors

Sanding and retaining and applying some new polyurethane on a floor without question can save thousands of dollars instead of replacement, however if you should not sand your floors at all, that has lead content.  Some companies have some excellent equipment that they market as able to capture 99% of dust or even more.  These dustless systems are fantastic from reducing the absolute chaos of dust getting everywhere involved with sanding a floor even when the room is depresurized.  Remember that the issue is not just about the amount of dust in the air, but the size of the particle that these systems can catch.  99% sounds like alot, but is no where near safe.  Dust particles are not easy to control.  If you are at all familiar with sanding  you will know that the only true method to reducing dust particles is to literally use plastic to encapsulate a room.  Not many lead particles are needed to be inhaled cause problems with your health.

Test it yourself first for one good reason, dont rely on your contractor.

The reason is quite simple.  Most hardwood installers don’t test.  You will know if your contractor tests for lead in your house because the testing kit has a very strong distinctive smell that will fill up the room,  it is very pungent and unpleasant.  I spoke to a reputable installer in Toronto and said to me “I have not come across that in 25 years”.    In a cookie cutter post WW2 house, and I can tell you many others on the same street probably had it too. This reputable installer just didn’t test over that time.  If you have had your floors sanded recently and are concerned about airborne particles, most environmental testing companies provide on-site air testing to determine if the air is safe.  Lead particles do not stay in the air too long and settle, but end up in unwanted places making cleanup more difficult.

Safe removal

Standard practice of hardwood removal with no lead content is to cut the floor with a circular saw in 4 foot strips which are easy to manage.  When I was discussing removal methods with the hardwood flooring installer, they glazed right over this point, which also adds a large amount of dust into the air.   So if you decide to let them do it, they better not cut strips in the floor. The method that was eventually used, was removing one plank at a time, without damaging the finish.  It was easily more than twice the amount of labour, but lead particles did not end up in the air.  Usually the environmental testing company will have project managers to guide you on other proper removal techniques.  Lead abatement will cost approximately the same as new hardwood floors, so most of the time, it is better just to remove it.  When thinking from an environmental standpoint, dangerous particles that are contained, or not airbourne is always favoured over airborne (Think of CO2 in the air vs CO2 capture).  Removal is most likely the more environmentally friendly choice.  Different jurisdictions will have different rules about disposal of lead content boards.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Always test for lead yourself first with an inexpensive test kit if you decide to sand your floor
  • If a positive result appears, verify from your local environmental testing company
  • Never sand a floor with any lead content, even if it is lower than 1%
  • “Dustless” sanders from professional flooring companies are effective for minimizing dust, but are not perfect, and not suitable for lead removal.
  • Standard strip cutting removal methods can’t be used.
  • Most environmental companies employ project managers who can guide you in proper procedures.
  • Entrapped lead in your hardwood is more environmentally friendly that releasing the lead into the air

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.

Texture

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

 

Drill driver bits: Robertson (Square shape), Phillips (Cross shape), and Slot (flat head)

I want to start off by saying that this is not a driver bit manufacturer comparision article.  I am not interested in whose bit is best, whether it’s a Bosch, Dewalt, Makita or some other manufacturer.  Rather this is an article to show you how to identify what a good bit looks like.

Continuously replacing poor quality inexpensive drill bits can ongoing battle that never ends.  If you are fastening (driving) a screw with a cordless drill with a poor quality bit, you will notice your Robertson or Phillips bit drive damaging the screws making it harder to drive the next screw.  Sometimes the screws damage the bit and sometimes the other way around.  It is very difficult to work with a bit that is damaged.  If by chance, you are using an impact driver instead of a cordless drill, the problem is exacerbated big time, as the impact driver “hammers” the bit rather than providing a continual push (turn) like a cordless drill.  Without going into metallurgy on why cheap drill bits suck, take my word that it wastes more time than it is worth.  Nothing is worse than putting together an Ikea desk with odd screw sizes, and your cheap drill bit damages the oddball sized screw which can’t be replaced by your local big box store. (They do have a wide selection of screws, but not all metric sizes, threads are carried).

If you like, you can buy a more expensive pivot holder (I have the yellow dewalt one in the featured picture).  Most manufacturers make pivot holders.  A pivot holder allows you to change out tiny 1/2″ long bits in and out of the holder (if you go through them quickly), and potentially saving you some money.  I pivot holders are good if you are driving alot of screws in a very short time, as you can replay the tips only which works well.

Using the pivot holder and replacing tips are most useful also when removing old screws from decking that are sometimes rusted and/or in hard to reach areas and/or the screws are damaged themselves, it is very helpful to have a bit that has a perfect shape.   New bits can help provide that perfect shape which only lasts for only a handful of screws if it is of poor quality.  I don’t like that throw away mentality, but sometimes there is no other choice.  If the bit is not properly seated in the screw, the process can destroy even the best impact resistant bits if you are not careful.  Sometimes sacrificing one cheap bit to remove a screw is worth it.

Stop buying these “40 piece bit set for only $5” deals at your local big box.  When a drill bit gets damaged, it is useless.  If you say, “well I have 39 more bits to go”, fine, I will not argue with that lifestyle.  Remember the difficulty is not just the bits being damaged, but all of the metal filings that damage the screws as well.  Honestly, if a big box store offered me a no name 40 piece bit set for free, I would not take it.

How to easily identify a good drill bit.

You will notice that the cheap bit is a six sided hexagonal shape from tip to tip.  Good quality bits  always have a round shape in the middle to the tip.  If you are driving screws in a tight corner, the six sided bit can damage wood easily by the rotating hexagonal shank shaped section.

Section of wood damged by drill bit
The six sided bit dented the wood. I only used softwood rather than a finished stained hardwood for the example, because I don’t want to ruin any of my finishes!

 

Round sections don’t damage your work like six sided bits do.  The roundness of the bit is not the only reason why it is good, it is just a tell.  A good manufacturer who cares about the quality of their bits will spend the extra money to tool them correctly.   For those Canadians out there who use Robertson bits, bits labeled  as “square” rather than “Robertson” are not the same.  The Robertson bit is square shaped, but it is also tapered unlike the “square ” bit, making it easier to unseat the bit.  Square bits sometimes get stuck to the screw, and I also find that the corners wear down faster.  The Robertson screw patent is now more than 100 years old and should be public domain meaning anyone can make it if they so please.  I usually try to not purchase “square” bits..  The Robertson screw is a neat piece of Canadiana.  Here is a neat video on the history of the screw.

Just a small list of my good bit experiences.

Milwaukee shockwave, Metabo, Vega, Dewalt “impact ready” for ruggedness.  The Dewalt standard size (2″ long) non-pivot holder impact ready bits are the only manufacturer of this group that are not round.  Why?  I couldn’t tell you.

There are many other great manufacturers out there.  Marketing today will usually tout their best bits as compatible with impact drivers.  Not all impact compatible bits brands are good, so do your research.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Bits that have a round shank are more forgiving with mistakes than their six sided counterparts if your bit is driving very close to finished wood.
  • Bits labelled “square” should be avoided.  Use Robertson instead because of the tapered head.
  • Impact driver compatibility is a good indication of a quality bit.  If you buy these, stick to well known brands, and you should be fine, but they are a little more costly.  Impact driver bits use a different type of metal, and the dead giveaway is that they have a black colour on the tip.  The Milwaukee shockwave in the featured picture of this article (top left) is one example of a “black coloured tip”
  • Price is a good indicator most of the time.  Only some very well respected brands will sell their lower tier bits at higher prices.  A good single drill bit will cost from $2 to $4 (rather than $0.25 for a cheap bits).
  • Most well known brands make bits that are good enough for the homeowner.  Some of the lesser known brands (metabo, vega, many others) don’t necessarily advertise impact driver compatibility, so ask your clerk at the hardware store about the quality, and he should be able to tell you.