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Belvedere's Helpful Tips

Practical Advice from Our Experts



The Complete Belvedere Fall Checklist: Getting ready for Stormy Weather

Here in Toronto, we are blessed with relatively moderate conditions most of the time - we are seldom subject to the hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes that plague many other areas. However, we would be wise to see the August 19th, 2005 rainstorm which washed out Finch Avenue and the tornadoes that threaten to touch down in Ontario as fair.

Warning: be ready for stormy weather.

The Belvedere team has put together a simple but informative 10-point inspection checklist for you.  Grab a pen and notepad… and we’ll guide you through a complete home checkup.
  1. Roof: Inspect to make certain all roofing components are secure, including shingles, flashing and fascia boards. Tree branches which overhang your home and which are at risk of coming down in the event of an ice storm should be removed in the fall.
  2. Chimneys: Loose or missing brick can usually be seen from the ground or with the help of binoculars. Look for mortar missing from between the brickwork and crumbling brickwork.
  3. Attic: Ensure you have adequate attic insulation and that all vents are functioning properly.
  4. Eavestroughs and downspouts: Clean out the eaves troughs after the leaves come down and before the snow flies, or you may have water problems come the Spring. Inspect downspouts to ensure water is not collecting near the foundation of your home. Belvedere highly recommends Don Lauder for eaves trough cleaning - Don can be reached at 416-266-8589.
  5. Windows: If your windows are old or original, you may want to consider replacing them with new, highly durable windows which require virtually no maintenance. If you are not planning to replace older windows, make sure to apply fresh caulking and good weather stripping.
  6. Doors: Snug new weather stripping around all exterior doors is the quickest, cheapest way to keep chill winds out and reduce heating costs.
  7. Tuckpointing: Upgrading the mortar between your home's bricks and concrete blocks helps keep the structure sound and prevents water intrusion.
  8. Exterior Foundation: Should be checked for water points of entry such as cracked mortar joints, deterioration, loose caulking or cement around basement windows which would allow water to enter, lack of window wells and window wells which are not functioning properly.
  9. Interior Foundation: Look for moisture stains which show up at the base of interior walls and can be identified by discoloration and flaking. Lift rugs where the floor meets the walls and look for dampness or mould and odour.
  10. Landscaping: Make sure sidewalks, driveways and patios are sloping away from the foundation to divert water.

Belvedere's Complete Spring Check List

After a tough Toronto winter, this is the perfect time of year to find out if you’ve sprung a basement leak or your porch is off kilter because of frost damage or the ice has pried the eaves loose or the driveway has developed more potholes than the Don Valley Parkway!

The Belvedere team has put together a simple but informative 10-point interior and exterior inspection checklist for you.  Grab a pen and notepad… and we’ll guide you through a complete home checkup.

  1. We’ll start with the eaves troughs and down pipes, which are crucial to diverting water from the roof and well away from your foundation.  Check whether the eaves have pulled away from the fascia board that holds them.  Ice dams on the roof frequently cause this and the result is water getting behind the eaves and rotting the fascia.  Also check for loose spikes that hold the eaves and down pipes in place.  Note any stains on the outside of the eaves, which may signal a blockage, or any leaks usually evident at the corners.  Take a look at your soffits, the area below the eaves, because peeling paint here can indicate inadequate attic ventilation or water damage from ice.
  2. Next, check all windows and doors for faulty weather-stripping, caulking and loose or deteriorated putty.  Cracks and gaps here not only make the home less energy efficient, but also allow moisture, drafts and insects into your house.  While you’re looking at the windows, notice the sills.  If there is any sign of deterioration, stains or mildew, it may signal water damage from poor grading or poor drainage.
  3. Carefully look over all of your masonry walls for missing mortar.  Stucco homes should be checked for cracks.  These problems are easy to solve – easier and cheaper the sooner they are undertaken.
  4. Insofar as you can, check the condition of your roof and chimney.  Using binoculars from the second floor of an obliging neighbour’s home works best.  Look for missing or curled shingles and flashings that have come loose.  Check the chimney for loose or cracked material at the crown, the flue tiles and the pest screens, and for missing mortar between the bricks.  Check around the roof vents and where soil pipes from bathrooms protrude through the roof.  Missing caulking here will allow water to run down the pipes and cause damage to the interior.
  5. Check your porch, decks and any retaining walls for cracks or separation from adjacent structures.  Frost or repeated freezing and thawing can generate enormous pressures and cause serious damage.

Now let’s go inside and see what we can discover. It’s here that problems originating outside will show up.

Carefully check the basement walls for any discoloration or flaking.  Feel the walls for moisture, especially near the floor, and look for bulging drywall and stains. You can usually discern signs of moisture, but you can also obtain a moisture meter that will detect moisture in walls that are finished or wood that is painted.  Also check the basement floor for loose tile, sheet flooring that is lifting or dampness under rugs.
  1. Check basement plumbing and hot water heaters for drips or leaks. This could be a source of water, and not a foundation leak.
  2. Check for signs of moisture, mildew or condensation on the ceilings of upstairs rooms, including inside closets, because this is where attic moisture problems first show up.
  3. Take a look into the attic and feel the insulation for wetness.  Look at the undersides of the roof for discoloration or rust.  You may also be able to see daylight showing through cracks or holes that have developed over the winter.  This is also a good time to ensure your exhaust fans are not just dumping moist air into the attic.  Have someone turn them on while you watch to see what happens.
  4. Check your fireplace by opening the damper and using a mirror.  If you can’t see daylight, you may have a blockage.  Check behind the damper for debris, such as bits of mortar or brick that have fallen down the chimney.  Remember to tightly close the damper when you are finished.  Do this every spring – why not change the batteries in your smoke detectors at the same time? – And you’ll have a pretty good idea how your home survived the winter.  If you find problems, we’re always here to help.

Your Basement: Dive Right In :
By Maurice Gualtieri

A wet basement is the No. 1 problem with Toronto homes, a fact you may already know from personal experience. But did you know that the search for basement leaks often begins on the roof?

That’s one of the few vantage points that will reveal inadequate grading. Looking down from above – especially in the spring when the ground may still be wet and foliage hasn’t yet blossomed – might reveal that water isn’t being directed away from the house at all.

Climbing a ladder is also the only way to survey your eavestroughs and downspouts. Many homeowners undertake the dreary task of clearing the eaves in the fall, but it should also be done in the spring in advance of heavy rains.

Remember, every drop of rain that lands on your roof will end up on the ground just a few inches from your foundation wall, unless the eaves carry it away or the ground slopes distinctly away from the house.

Back on the ground, carefully check the connection where the downspout enters the storm drain. A washout or depression around that area indicates water has been backing up or spilling directly onto the ground.

Persistent dampness in the basement causes mould and mildew, which usually smells, so your nose will tell you if you have a long-standing problem. You can also detect less obvious problems by doing a little detective work.

Check the window sills for stains, mould or rusty nail heads, all signs of excessive moisture. Check your walls, especially near the floor. There should be no flaking or powdery residue. Efflorescense, those shiny flakes that result from the build-up of minerals and salts from water infiltrating the walls, is a dead giveaway of seepage or a leak.

On the floor, look for lifting tiles or stained carpet. Spongy areas in a wood floor also signal a moisture problem below. Buckled paneling or bulging drywall are also telltale signs of dampness. Moisture problems need to be solved, because in time, wood components will rot, metal will rust and concrete will crumble, weakening the structural integrity of the house. Wet wood is also a gold-engraved banquet invitation to termites.

Fortunately, some solutions are simple and you can accomplish them yourself.

The first is to fill in any depressions or gullies around the foundation and make sure the surface slopes away from the walls – one inch per foot for the first six feet will do it. This will prevent rain and melting snow from ending up in your basement.

The next is to clean your eavestroughs and then pour some water into them at different locations. If the water drains away then you know the slope is fine; but if water pools in some areas, the eaves in that area need to be realigned.

Other solutions call for expert assistance. If you have leaks or seepage around the basement windows, a new concrete or corrugated steel window well may be the solution.
If you have more serious problems – if you can’t leave cardboard boxes on the floor without deterioration, for instance – you may have to waterproof your foundation wall or install new drainage tiles around the foundation to direct water into the storm or sewer system.

Belvedere has been waterproofing and repairing foundation walls for decades. Replacing drainage tile clogged by dirt or broken by tree roots and using the latest foundation wall technology (including cement and asphalt sealers and plastic membrane), we are confident enough in our work to provide a 30-year guarantee.

A pool is a great addition to any home, but not in the basement!


Your Attic: Its a Breeze
By Brian Gay

If you’re like most Toronto homeowners, you have probably visited foreign countries more often than you’ve visited your attic. Yet it’s a place you should frequent at least twice a year.

Today, most Canadian attics are well insulated, but many are poorly ventilated – a condition that can add to energy bills and create costly damage to the roof.

Creating air flow through the attic is important in summer to get rid of hot air and in winter to get rid of moist air, both of which can damage materials and the structure of your attic and roof.

The intense summer sun beating on an unventilated roof can heat your attic to almost double the outside temperature. Parts of the roof and the shingles can be distorted and deteriorated by such heat. Worse, the attic will stay hot all night, and the rooms immediately below will actually be gaining heat as you try to sleep.

In winter, moist air from inside the house – from cooking, bathing, laundering or humidifying – will seep into the attic. As soon as it hits the cold rafters, nails or anything metal, it will condense into water or frost. Severe condensation can drip into the insulation, lessening its effectiveness and perhaps staining the ceiling below.

A related winter problem is ice dams caused by the top of the roof being warm enough to melt snow and the lower area being cold enough to refreeze it. The resulting ice buildup is not only a threat to your eavestroughs, but can cause moisture to get under the shingles or behind the fascia boards, ruining the roof and leading to rot, insect infestation and mould.

The goal of good attic ventilation is to create air flow that will keep the underside of the roof the same temperatures as the top. Sufficient vents to let air in and let air out are required – generally, one square foot of vent for every 300 square feet of attic space.

While you can install motorized vents that are turned on and off by thermostats and humidistats, a power vent is costly and a challenge to maintain. It can also create other problems, such as siphoning cooled air from the house in summer and heated air from the house in winter, adding to your energy bills.

The best solution is just the right balance of vents, properly located, to let mother nature do most of the work. The wind passing over the house naturally creates areas of high pressure that will force air into the attic and areas of low pressure that will suck air out of the attic.

Normally, intake vents are located in the soffits, the area below the eaves, where wind can do its job and rain and snow are least likely to be blown in. Exhaust vents are normally located near the top of the roof.

Apart from having upstairs bedrooms that just won’t cool down on summer evenings, it’s difficult to assess the adequacy of ventilation in the summer. In the winter or early spring it’s easier to feel the insulation for dampness or search for discoloured rafters, a sure sign of mildew.

And while you’re looking around, make sure that any exhaust fans from bathrooms or kitchens are vented right through the attic to the outside. If they’re discharging into the attic, you’re simply taking moist air from a place where’s it’s merely inconvenient to a place where it’s certain to cause serious problems.

There are many kinds of vents, from single grills to long strips to those with turbine blades that spin in the wind. More important is having enough of them to change the attic air about 10 times per hour.

It’s a complex calculation to determine the exact amount of venting needed for an individual attic and local conditions can dictate what sort of venting is best. But a properly ventilated attic can add to the comfort of your home in all seasons.

And the money you save on heating and cooling costs may be enough to pay for a trip to someplace exotic!



Your Fireplace: Handle with Care
By Jay Williams

A fireplace is an attractive feature in any room, and – especially if you’re a romantic – a crackling fire is about as important to a successful rendezvous as a bottle of good wine!

But if you’re going to be practical, you might as well use dollar bills for kindling, because most fireplaces send more heat up the chimney than they add to the home.

A roaring fire can suck 400 cubic feet of air right out of the house – air that you’ve paid dearly to heat and that you are counting on to keep you warm when you venture more than a few feet beyond the hearth!

Another thing: A fireplace can add hundreds of dollars to your heating bill even when you are not using it. If the damper is open or not well sealed when closed, heated air from the room will be drawn up the chimney and you’ll never realize why the house is so cold or the fuel bills are so high.

When you are using the fireplace, there’s more to worry about. Creosote build-up from burning wood, particularly green or soft wood such as pine, is unavoidable and can cause a serious chimney fire if the flue is not cleaned out regularly.

Fireplaces – and all combustion appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces and gas water heaters – require fresh air for effective burning. Because today’s homes are often tightly sealed for energy efficiency, you may not achieve complete combustion or the chimney may not effectively draw the smoke and gases away.

That means dangerous carbon monoxide can be produced and enter the house, with potentially lethal results. Smoke stains on the front of the fireplace is one clue that such a problem may exist.
A faulty flue or a deteriorated chimney or a chimney without protective devices to keep birds, squirrels and even raccoons from blocking the airflow are also sources of trouble, ranging from annoyance to disaster.

Fortunately, there are solutions that mean you can enjoy your fireplace in comfort and security, and Belvedere has been called on to provide all of them over the years.

The simplest step is to correct any deficiencies in the chimney. It’s also important to ensure that there’s a separate flue for each appliance that produces exhaust, such as the furnace and each fireplace in the house.

Tuckpointing the chimney and putting a proper cap on it will prevent bricks, mortar and animals from falling into the flue.

Ensuring that the damper closes properly and installing glass doors will help prevent heat loss when the fireplace is not being used. Adding a supplemental air intake for combustion air can improve burning efficiency and prevent problems in air-tight homes.

Another solution is to install some sort of heat recovery ventilator that forces heated fireplace air into the room, instead of letting most of it flow up the chimney.

Perhaps the best solution from an energy efficiency and safety point of view is to install a gas or propane fireplace insert with realistic-looking ceramic logs. They are not only efficient and cost-effective, but produce a predictable and even flow of heat. And you can turn them on and off with the flick of a switch whenever you want.

Some of these installations don’t even require a chimney, just a small pipe to the outside that serves to bring in air for combustion and to take out the exhaust gases. That means you can have a fireplace not just in the living room, but virtually any room in the house from bedroom to bathroom.

Imagine a crackling fire while you draw a luxurious bubble bath…. Say, did I mention that Belvedere is also experienced in constructing new bathroom additions?
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