HelpLine Experts

Q. There’s sometimes a smell like rotten eggs around my furnace room. Could there be a problem with my water heater?
-William Webster, Lucknow, Ontario.

A. Mercaptan is a harmless, non-toxic substance that has a strong ‘rotten egg’ smell, and it’s added as a safety precaution to natural gas and propane to make it easier to detect in case of a leak. If you detect this odour in your home, you should immediately open windows, leave the house and call your local gas company from a cell phone or a neighbour’s phone. The gas company should send a service representative to investigate right away. Gas pipes in your home are typically made of steel or copper with connections between various lengths that have the potential to leak. Gas appliances in your home could be the potential source of a leak and will be checked by the gas company as they inspect your home.
-Brent Cooper

Q. I have a basement walkout at the back of my house. There’s cracking in the block foundation in this area and the sliding glass door is hard to open during the winter months. Any suggestions?
-Scott Shaw, North Bay, Ontario.

A. It could be that the house did not originally have a walkout, and when this area was excavated they removed soil from the foundation that exposed the footings of the house to frost. The soil around a house acts as an insulator and protects the foundation footings from extreme cold. As the moisture in the earth freezes in this area it expands and can cause the house to lift, leaving you with cracks and a door that is hard to open and close. You may have to underpin this area by creating a footing for the house below the frost line. I would consult a qualified structural engineer to assess the problem.
-Brent Cooper

Q. I recently spent two weeks at my vacation home, about 300 miles from my year-round home. When I went fishing at a nearby lake I accidentally dropped my only set of cabin keys in the water. The nearest locksmith was about 200 miles away so I had no choice but to break a window to get in.

I took the deadbolt out of the door and drove 200 miles to the locksmith where I had new keys made for the lock. This meant another 200 miles back to the cabin so I could reinstall the lock. What an inconvenience!

Is there a good safe place outside the cabin to hide a key?
-Norm Faulkner, Vancouver

A. It’s never a good idea to hide a key on the outside of your cabin. You never know who might find it and the results could be catastrophic. I would purchase a keypad deadbolt. This will not only allow you keyed access but will allow you key-less access as well. If you lose your key, it’s no problem, because you can just enter your code and the deadbolt will open. I recommend the Schlage Keypad Deadbolt for several reasons, including its back lit keypad, which
alleviates fumbling in the dark, the three plus years on the battery life, and its strength and easy installation.
-Frank Fourchalk

Q. I have a very hard time pushing the key inside my lock. I have to wiggle and jiggle it just to get it in. Once inserted, the lock works fine but sometimes I stand outside for five minutes trying to enter my home. Do I need to purchase a new lock or should I get new keys cut?
-Dean Svensson, London, Ontario

A. Neither – all your lock needs is lubricating. If you have trouble turning your lock once the key is inserted, you would need to have your locks pins reset. This is called re-keying. However, in your case the lock works fine with the key fully inserted. This tells me you just need to spray a good lock lubricant into the key way (the part that accepts the key). There are many good light lubricants on the market. Personally I like to use WD40. Often people frown if you mention using this product because it carries many misconceptions.

The fact of the matter is this product does not gum up locks and certainly doesn’t contain water. The WD stands for “water displacement” and is used as a degreaser. It’s true it doesn’t last as long as oil, but be forewarned, placing oil in a lock will attract dirt and eventually gunk the lock up and create a malfunction. So stick to the light lubricants for the best results.
-Frank Fourchalk

Q. We have a summer home that will eventually become a full time residence. Do you have any ideas for artwork? The house is country but not rustic. We want things that will stand the test of time.
Sarah McNulty, Kingston, Ontario

A. There are all kinds of things you can do in every price range. You can buy inexpensive prints or have photos enlarged. You can even arrange antique utensils or implements in groupings. Just remember to have some common theme tying them together and arrange in uneven numbers. And, of course, there are so many great Canadian artists new and old. You can never go wrong with The Group of Seven or their contemporaries. Frances Anne Hopkins painted pictures of the fur trade while travelling (by canoe) with her husband, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Emily Carr is famous for her paintings of the British Columbia forests and shorelines.

Clarence Gagnon, my personal favorite, is known for his village scenes in rural Quebec. Nicely framed prints go for about $200, depending on size, and larger unframed canvases can be had for around $600. If you want to be really thrifty, art calendars and books are excellent sources for the do-it-yourselfer. Simply mount on black [so the
back doesn’t show through] and use ready made frames. Some people go to yard sales just to look for ugly pictures with great frames. Discard the picture, and insert your own!
-Eila Becker

Q. How can we make our basement recreation room/family room seem less like a dungeon? We want a warm welcoming
room where the family can gather but right now it just feels like a basement.
-Sam Gregory, Timmons, Ontario.

A. My first concern would be to make sure it is dry and warm. If there’s dampness, install a dehumidifier. Are the walls insulated? What about the floor? Carpet would be warm underfoot but is there any chance of flooding? A gas fireplace would be nice and cozy. Is it a possibility? When these items are taken care of, then you can concentrate on the aesthetics.

When painting, use light colours. Painting the walls and ceiling the same colour will help to visually ‘raise’ a low ceiling. Use lots of different types of artificial light – task lighting, accent lighting, and general illumination. Basement windows are generally small so try a few tricks to make them look bigger. Use full-length curtains for a long line, hang curtains from a rod installed just above the sill to give the impression of a longer window behind, or
install blinds that roll down and not up.

Keep furnishings low and in scale. Sectionals in leather real or faux are hard wearing and very practical. Ottomans
are a popular substitute for coffee tables. Make the most of the space you have and camouflage or ignore what you can’t change! Often, that is more interesting than perfection!
-Eila Becker