Reader Feedback: Issue 186, April/May 2007
Turn off the water when you lather up
The essay “Down the drain” (FHB #183, p. 8) and the subsequent letters (FHB #185, pp. 8, 12) debating low-flow showerheads all missed the point. When I take a shower, most of my time is spent lathering up, not using water. Really conscientious folks turn off or turn down the flow. If you let the water run, even 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) wastes a lot of water. But if you turn off the water, you usually have to hassle with readjusting the temperature when you’re ready to rinse. I install simple in-line flow valves behind each showerhead (about $10 each). A flick of the button reduces the flow to a trickle; another flick of the button restores it to my original settings.
The solution is not to mandate an upper limit on flow; it’s to provide better controllability of the device to let people curtail waste. To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, if you can blame water waste on high-flow showerheads, then I can blame spelling mistakes on my pencil.
—Jeff Seltzer, Los Gatos, Calif.
Potable water is not so abundant
In his letter “Stop with the ecopreaching” (FHB #185, p. 8), Bill Muse really misses the point. He states that water is the most abundant resource on earth, is recycled continuously, etc. Yes, water is abundant; potable water is not. It takes tremendous energy to treat and pump potable water to our homes and to treat our sewage. Hot water is not free; it takes energy to keep our 40- and 50-gal. tanks of water at 130°F 24/7 (subtle plug for tankless heaters intended).
What if every person on earth had Mr. Muse’s attitude that he is entitled to bathe daily under a 100-gpm showerhead?
—Thomas O. Gray, Pittsburgh
In the article “Installing Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting” (FHB #185, pp. 80-85), there is a mistake in the sidebar “Troubleshooting tips from a pro electrician.” Under the heading “A single lamp won’t light up,” it says: “Cut the power, remove the lamp, power up again, and check the fixture’s resistance using a multimeter.” It should have said: “Cut the power, remove the lamp, and check its resistance using a multimeter. If the multimeter shows a noninfinite resistance, the lamp passes the test. If not, install a new lamp and power up the system again.” The differences are important. Using a multimeter to check resistance on a powered-up system is fundamentally wrong and may damage the meter. This error was introduced during the final editing process, too late for the author to review.
Big ain’t green
You missed a golden opportunity in your article “What Does Green Really Mean?” (FHB #185, pp. 64-71). Four of the five houses shown as examples of green practices are huge, ranging from 2845 sq. ft. to 6500 sq. ft. Only one, at 1566 sq. ft., was of modest size. In my opinion, green not only means high-efficiency technology, solar/alternative technologies, reuse of recycled materials, nontoxic finishes, etc., that were so excellently presented in the article, but it also should mean downsizing to the smallest-possible scale.
The ultimate goal of green building is to use less energy, not only for constructing our buildings but also for maintaining these buildings for perhaps 100 years. So it means a change in American thinking: to live smarter by leaving a smaller footprint and a smaller impact on resources ultimately extracted from nature. You muffed a marvelous opportunity to emphasize this environment-friendly approach.
—Ernie Nickels, Tempe, Ariz.
Tubing isn’t pipe
Every time your magazine uses the word pipe to refer to tubing, you give me indigestion ( FHB #180, “PEX Pipe,” pp. 70-75 ). Surely, you must have heard the following because it’s common knowledge.
1. Pipe (except nonscrew drainpipe) is metal or plastic with a wall thickness suitable for threading, and it is made only in industry-standard outside diameters, regardless of material or wall thickness. Even though that wall thickness (the strength) and therefore the inside diameter might vary, the outside diameter stays the same so that standard internally threaded fittings can be used. Thus, 11/2-in. pipe (called IPS, iron pipe size) has a 1.900-in. outside diameter, regardless of whether it’s steel, copper, PVC, or anything else, or whether it’s schedule 40 (normal wall) or schedule 160 (thick wall).
2. That’s pipe. Tubing is another animal. It comes in many materials and many outside diameters intended for a variety of nonscrew fittings. PEX does not “come in the same outside diameters as rigid copper pipe (nominal plus 1/8 in.).” These are the standard outside diameters of copper tubing. Pipe is something else.
I know you don’t mean to give me indigestion. I do think Fine Homebuilding is great, and I never miss an issue.
—Bill Goodwin, Winchester, Mass.
In his article “A Sloping Floor for a Barrier-Free Bath” (FHB #185, pp. 50-55), Tom Meehan mentions two standard mud-job details that I’ve never understood: “Felt paper isolates the mortar bed from movement in the subfloor…” and “The wire lath anchors the mortar to the floor.” Aren’t those two things mutually exclusive?
I understand that the felt keeps the water from being pulled out of the mortar, but if it is also there to isolate the mortar, why do you go back and anchor it down?
—Lon McPherson, Birmingham, Ala.
Author Tom Meehan replies: You’re right that felt paper acts as a moisture barrier that prevents the wood from drawing water out of the mortar, but it does more than that. The felt also works as a slip sheet that prevents movement of the floor frame from telegraphing a crack through the tile floor. The wire lath reinforces the mortar (as rebar does with concrete), and it anchors the tile floor/ mortar bed to the plywood subfloor, preventing up-and-down movement. So how can the mortar bed be isolated from the floor frame and attached to it? The explanation is the relative difference between methods of attachment.
If mortar were applied directly over the plywood, then the mortar would be continuously bonded to the subfloor, and any movement in the floor frame definitely would crack the tile installation. However, laying down felt paper and using short nails through oversize holes in the wire lath anchor the mortar bed while allowing some independent movement of the floor frame and minimizing any chance of cracking.