New Entrance Stairs for Historic Rednersville Road Home

Recently completed entrance stairs to a historic house on Rednersville Road in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

 

Plenty of planning goes into every job we take on. You know what they say, measure twice and cut once.

One of the secrets to successful projects is planning. We like to plan out every detail ahead of time, so when we show up to do the work, everyone is on the same page. Everyone gets to know what to expect next at every stage of construction.

Ordering materials is easy when you have a nice set of plans to work from.

Here you can see the existing front steps going into the raised porch to the right.

You can never be too safe. The homeowner locked the door and placed a chair in front of the door from the inside. We put a cargo bar across the entrance with some florescent flagging from the outside at railing height as an extra layer of safety.

After the old stairs were removed, a small section of surface drainage tile was rolled up under the porch until after we’re finished with the footings.

We selected to dig all the posts by hand for this project because of the proximity to a foundation of this age. It’s hard to predict what you might find when you dig beside these old homes. Many of them have very wide, stone foundation walls that prevent you from installing deck footings close to the house. We were able to position the stair footings nice and close to the house footings here.

Quick and easy way to cut through roots with a cheap reciprocating saw and a worn out blade we save just for roots and dirt.

Whenever you are building something, we always recommend taking 5 minutes and doing a little bit of measuring and layout BEFORE you start working. Here you can see a white arrow drawn on the foundation wall that makes it easy to check our footing depth as we go.

Yes it’s easy to check these things as you go but you know what, in our experience, when you’re sweating after digging for half hour, your brain doesn’t like to figure out things and you start to make mistakes. That’s why we measure twice FIRST and then start working!

Similarly, take plenty of breaks to continually check your work. You will sleep better knowing you quadruple checked that measurement – trust us. Here we are setting the centre of the first concrete footing with a regular old plumb bob and measuring tape held off the raised porch rim joist. Don’t over complicate things; the simplest way is usually the best.

Here is a handy little way to use a carpenters square and a mini level to check your footing forms for plumb and elevation against a mark on the wall.

Ever seen the flat end of a digging bar? Makes a great tamper for adding a couple inches of gravel under your footings and for tamping around your forms when backfilling.

Here is another handy trick: Use a nice big shop vac to suck up dirt while you chip it out with a digging bar or shovel. Here we put a tarp on the adjacent garden so we weren’t disturbing the topsoil. Cleaning up soil at the end of a job on a tarp is much easier.

Here is another shot showing how you can use a carpenters square and mini level to get your form tubes plumb  and at the elevation you want.

It’s often easy to run a string line and put in a few nails or spikes as reference points before you start the next stage of construction.

Here you can see a pipe that passes right where we are building the upper landing for the stairs. Obviously this will have to be addressed before the stairs can be constructed.

Here is one of our favourite things to keep in the truck. You know those foam mats that fit together like a puzzle for a kids room or the classroom? Yup, they are great for many things like kneeling on, but here we found another great use. Place one over each hole with a bit of dirt or a few rocks in the middle.

The foam mats kind of flex to the shape of your holes and keeps them clean. Keeping dirt and rocks from falling back in the hole can save you a lot of work when you need to leave the holes open for any length of time

If you choose to dig post holes by hand, take your time and pace yourself. Bring a variety of tools so you can change it up when you encounter some rocks, a root, some sand, etc. It’s hard work so you want a few different tools to try when you get tired out.

Here is another way to get your forms lined up with a piece of plywood.

Safety is always the number one priority. We’ve all seen the guys that take the shortcuts, and we all know it only takes a few minutes to make things safe.

There are many different ways to do the same job. Don’t let your neighbour tell you what to do. If you are comfortable with a tool or a method, then it’s probably your best bet. Too often, it’s easy to think you are going to save all this time by renting a big fancy tool. Here we decided to mix our concrete with an electric handheld mixer in a regular wheelbarrow. For this job, this made sense. In another situation, maybe a concrete mixer rental would have been a better choice. The point is, every job is different, and you can often eliminate a lot of hassle by keeping things simple.

After the footings for the upper landing were completed, the drainage tile can be reinstalled in a shallow trench.

Here you can see the masonry repair where the old pipe used to be. Click here to read more about the masonry brick repair. 

Finally, we install the first post and treat the cut end with preservative.

All four landing posts and 2X10 beams getting mocked up.

The building code requires beams in this configuration to be secured to the posts with two half inch galvanized bolts in this particular case.

Here is a good photo showing how the 6 inch posts get bolted to the footings. You can see the 2X10 beams bolted to the posts and then the 2X8 joists resting on the beams. The building code is very specific on the placement and orientation of all of these components. It’s just not good enough to grab some lumber and screws from the hardware store anymore! Note how the posts pass right through the deck and will become the railing posts. This creates a very strong structure.

Here the upper posts are cut off at the required height and the railings and pickets can be installed. Make a habit of fastening or tying off your ladders at the top = much safer!

Once the upper landing was built, the stair stringers were cut and the final location of the footings that will support the stairs can be matched up perfectly. Sure you can do all your footings at the same time, but doing the three stair footings after allowed us to ensure they landed exactly where the stairs end. Also, we weren’t tripping over the footings while we built the upper landing.

Here you can some fabric weed guard with a thin layer of gravel spread on top. We just cut slots or holes around each footing and this just keeps the weeds and moisture from growing up and rotting out the wood.

 

Here you can see a few pieces of plywood and the foam gym mats are great for protecting the deck boards from mud and rocks on your boots.

Here is a photo showing the 2X10 beam bolted connections.

Easy Masonry Brick Repair – It’s not that hard if you are prepared and have patience

Masonry is fun, rewarding work if done properly. If you don’t plan on doing it properly, please don’t bother. It is not easy work, but it is not incredibly difficult if you have some patience and are prepared ahead of time.

Here is a pipe passing through some brickwork. The pipe is no longer used and you can see the bricks we are dealing with pass beneath an adjacent porch.

The first thing to think about when repairing any fine masonry is to investigate exactly what type of materials you are working with. Look at the overall condition of the rest of the house and ask the owner exactly what kind of repair they are looking for.

It’s also very important to ensure a few things before you buy any supplies. Especially when you’re dealing with historic bricks like shown here.

I won’t write an article on mortar here. What you need to know: Mortar is the stuff between the bricks. Modern mortar is made with portland cement and is very durable and strong. Before they invented portland cement, they used to use a type of lime mortar. It was not nearly as strong but it was great for other reasons.

If you have historic lime mortar, you want to repair it with lime mortar. You don’t want to go to the hardware store and buy mortar from there. Most houses will have modern portland cement mortar. Then you are most likely safe to use an off the shelf mortar as long as you’re happy with the colour matching etc.

How can you tell if you have portland or lime mortar? Vinegar. Take some vinegar and if the mortar fizzes and bubbles then it’s lime mortar. If it doesn’t fizz or bubble, and it generally feels like grainy sandy concrete/cement that you would touch on a sidewalk or a curb for example, then it’s most likely modern portland cement mortar and you can repair it with something from the hardware store. Not just anything from the hardware store. Go get proper masonry mortar that’s ready to mix with water and follow the package.

The first step was to cut slots in the steel pipe and carefully fold them in to close it off.

Here I knocked out the rest of the middle brick and cut the upper brick in half. I didn’t want to disturb any of the bricks going behind the porch for this minor repair.

You can easily break out bricks like this by drilling 3 or 4 holes in a straight line on a brick and using a cold chisel to carefully tap a nice perfectly straight crack.

Once you’ve removed all of the old mortar and all of the old bricks you are replacing, sweep out all the surfaces and wash them down nicely. This makes sure the new mortar really sticks to the bricks….Otherwise, you’re putting new mortar on a layer of dust and then…well it’s not sticking to the brick!

It’s easy to test fit bricks before you put any mortar on them to make sure everything will be spaced out nicely. You can use sticks if you want but you can usually see pretty well. Don’t get fancy, just try to match the thickness of the old mortar by eye.

If you really don’t like it when you go to put the mortar on, you can always scrape everything back out in 30 seconds and go cut another brick so don’t rush if it gets messy your first try. Just wash everything down and try again. Done properly, masonry can last hundreds of years.

It’s probably a good idea to test fit everything before you open up your mortar, but you often need to let the mortar sit for 30 minutes after mixing so you have time to cut a couple bricks and get a coffee.

Sometimes, it’s easier to drill a few holes in a brick and tap it with a cold chisel to snap a straight line in a brick like above. Once I’m fitting bricks into place like this, it’s really nice to have an angle grinder with a masonry cut off disc to cut your bricks the perfect shapes.

Take your time and experiment with different tools and techniques until you get the results you want. Wash the surface of the bricks off with a damp cloth and knock down all the rough edges of the mortar and you’re finished.

=> Cardboard Inserts for Milk Crate Small Part Storage

Milk crates are a great way to store items but have you ever wanted to keep a bunch of nuts and bolts in one?

Cut out a bunch of cardboard panels like this to make a simple milk crate insert that is now great for catching screws and nails that are always jumping out of their packaging.

You can hang crates from a wall with hooks like shown here. This is a great way to store and swap out crates for different jobs. Take note that the milk crates in the photo below are resting on a sturdy ledge that is supporting the weight.

 

=> Shed With Wood Base

Many people already know how great it is to own a nice sturdy shed.

Spend time planning out the location and elevation of your deck blocks before you start. Notice the drainage swale running under this shed.

Start with the 4 corner deck blocks and just place your lumber without fastening. Adjust your deck blocks with gravel or digging until they are square and level. You can add the centre deck blocks after and shim to fit.

It makes sense to use 2X6 pressure treated joists spaced 12″ O.C. for most sheds.

You can save yourself a lot of work if you eliminate cutting by using full sheets of plywood and full lengths of lumber wherever you can. You also eliminate the need to paint the cut ends of wood with wood preservative.

Take the time to set up a nice work area and organize the parts so you can see everything. It only takes 2 minutes to set up a couple sawhorses with some planks and it makes assembling individual shed components so much easier.

Plan out each step on every job and you will have better results. Some simple braces really can help hold the walls for you. Get creative!

Plan out where your doors will swing in advance so they won’t block a window for example. Here you can see a gas meter which also needs to be accessed year round.

Getting to decide where you are going to store everything in your new shed is the fun part!

Most sheds like this allow you to reconfigure the interior shelving as many times as you’d like with simple tools.

Looks like this shed was put up just in time for winter! Enjoy!

 

=> Crown Moulding, Baseboards and Window/Door Trim Make Huge Difference For a Small Price

One of the most overlooked opportunities to really make your home pop inside is the moulding and trim work.

When you consider the price of moulding and trim compared to the dramatic effect it can have, it’s really a no brainer.

Don’t believe me? Start noticing what differentiates a really nice interior to one that your cousin did. Take a look at any home improvement show of nicer homes and you will start noticing the trim.

When we did a bit of trim and crown moulding for this job in Nov 2022 the baseboards, window & door trim was ONLY 55 cents per foot. The crown moulding was about $2.60 per foot.

 

=> Recaulking a Bathroom Tub

Recaulking your shower or tub isn’t rocket science but it’s not always an easy job.

90% of the job is removing the old caulking. This step can’t be overlooked since the new caulking just won’t stick if there is any old caulking, soap scum, water or other debris.

You must carefully scrape and peel out all of the old caulking first. A proper caulking removal tool is a must in order to really get the old sealant off without damaging the tub surface.

How do you know when to replace your caulking? When water gets behind the caulking it often discolours and gets grey/black spots. You can also use your fingernail to try peeling the edges of the caulking. If it’s no longer stuck to the surface, it’s not sealing out water and needs replacing.

You might need some chemicals to help peel the caulking off so just cover your drain with something and let everything fall into the tub.

After the caulking has been removed, dry all the surfaces thoroughly. This is another very important step and it’s easy to miss a bit of moisture so it’s best to let it air dry after wiping.

Now you’re finally ready to apply the new caulking.

 

=> Power Tool Repair with Epoxy

I recently cracked the handle on my little jackhammer. It was an easy fix with some two part epoxy.

First I removed the screws holding the handle together and removed the broken side grip.

Here you can see the crack. I had gotten the jackhammer stuck and decided to try to pry it out – wrong!

Use some regular two part epoxy and then wrap it with an elastic or some dental floss to hold the part together while the epoxy cures.

=> Shelving Unit for Bedroom Wall

Recently installed shelving units on bedroom wall.

Some tips to ensure a project like this turns out well:

Find and mark out your studs before time. Most items should be anchored to the wall securely to solid wood framing through the drywall.

Assemble all the parts of your project and actually put the items in position to see how they look BEFORE you fasten anything.

Once you’ve decided on your placement, you can follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly anchor the item through your drywall and into solid wood framing.

=> Dryer Vent Install & Relocate

This customer wants to reconfigure their laundry room to add a nice laundry counter area in the room.

The first step is to install a new dryer vent and seal up the old vent so that the dryer can be moved to allow room for the counter.

Here you can see where the new dryer vent was installed between floor joists.

Tip: take your time marking everything out on small jobs like this to prevent any headaches.

It’s very important to always follow the manufacturers instructions. For example, these zip ties are provided with this vent kit for a reason. Using self tapping screws here will snag lint that will need constant cleaning. Using the wrong products here could present a fire hazard. Don’t rush small jobs. Even small jobs can have big consequences if not completed properly.

Here is what we were left with after the old vent was removed outside. It’s important to use the best caulking and sealants available – period.

Here is a suitable solution to block the exterior sheathing where the old vent passed through.

New vent on the left. Old vent covered with siding behind garden plant.