Q&A with Steve Maxwell
Air conditioner drain
Q: Can I drill a two-inch hole through the concrete floor of my basement for the drain tube of an air conditioner? The nearest drainpipe is 25 feet away and I don’t want to install plastic pipes running along the floor. Will my plan cause problems?
A: I think your plan will work fine. The amount of water generated by an air conditioner isn’t large, and it will easily seep away in the coarse soil underneath your floor. I’d try drilling a hole that’s slightly larger than the tube that leads from your air conditioner, then seal the gap with silicone caulking.
Cottage flooring optionsQ: What kind of flooring can I install in our unheated, 140-year-old cottage? The floors are currently covered in very old rolled flooring on top of wide cedar boards. We considered using rolled flooring again, but we don’t want the curling and cupping we have now. What do you recommend?
A: Rolled flooring is durable, and that’s why it’s often used in cottages. But as you’ve discovered, it doesn’t always stay put all that well. Even glued installations can sometimes be troublesome, especially in cottages. The reason is the wide swings in temperature that occurs over the course of the year inside all unheated buildings. This leads to shrinking, swelling, and trouble. Alternatively, I’ve seen unfinished boards do a terrific job as a cottage floor, if you’re OK with a rustic look. Foot traffic wears the wood to appearance that’s very much in keeping with an informal place. In my experience dirt stains aren’t a problem, even if you walk around in outdoor shoes. A more refined approach is a laminate floor. This goes down easily, is surprisingly tough, but there’s a hitch. Laminates required a very flat subfloor that few older places have. Any more than a 1/4-inch deviation from level over a 10-foot radius lets laminates flex and make noise under foot.
Insulating panels for basement walls are easy to use, effective and impervious to moisture vapour. Steve Maxwell photo)
Finishing pre-insulated basement walls
Q: How can I deal with the partially insulated basement walls in my new home? A layer of insulation extends partway down the wall without a wall frame, with nothing at all on the bottom four feet above the floor. Should I rip it all off and start from scratch? What about building a new insulated wall and leaving the old insulation in place?
A: The decision you’re facing is quite common and it springs from the fact that building codes don’t always require basement wall insulation to go from floor to ceiling. Some higher-end homes have full-height insulation, but many houses don’t. And as you’d guess, there are a few different ways to handle the challenge. First, and most importantly, your basement must be completely dry. And don’t let wishful thinking get the better of you here — bone-dry or don’t finish at all. Since typical code-minimum walls don’t have any sort of framing present (usually just a blanket of floppy, foil-backed fibreglass like you’ve got), you must either build a frame, or strip the existing insulation off and replace it with something else.
My preference for basement walls is to insulate with rigid foam, then fasten wall board on top. Barricade wall panels are a unique Canadian option that includes extruded polystyrene foam factory bonded to a layer of waferboard.
The panels sit directly against the foundation wall, held in place with screws driven into the masonry. Drywall gets fastened on top with screws driven into the wood.