Reader Feedback: Issue 188, June/July 2007
Sneakers on the job
In your note about safety, which runs in every issue (p. 16), you talk about promoting safe work habits through your articles. Yet on the front cover of the April/ May issue (FHB #186), there is a picture of a guy working in his sneakers.
He’s cutting out roof sheathing boards, which will presumably land at or close to his feet. He has not taken the precaution of bending the nails that held the rafters in place. If you look closely at picture No. 6 in the article, his left heel is only inches away from a board with a nail sticking out. Instead of working alongside him, Rick Arnold should have sent the guy home for his boots.
Come on, guys. This stuff is just common sense.
—Fergal McCaul, Syracuse, N.Y.
Another pre-fab foundation source
If you ever want to find a manufacturer, just publish a magazine article suggesting that they don’t exist. Your phone will start ringing before the magazine hits the newsstand. After searching high and low for products comparable to the Superior Walls foundation system featured in Tim Robinson’s article “Energy Smart Foundation in Two Days” (FHB #186), I found only two. I was close; there are three. I regret not finding out about Oasis Foundation Wall System (www.oasiswall.com) two months ago. Sorry, readers.
—Daniel S. Morrisson, associate editor
Classic cornice returns
John Spier builds a nice cornice return (FHB #185, “Master Carpenter,” p. 128), but I wouldn’t use the word classic to describe it as your front cover does.
The classical version has the eave fascia molding (usually crown) run past the corner a distance equal to the rake overhang, then turn toward the ridge. After running past the corner a ways (sometimes equal to the width of the eave soffit, sometimes not), the fascia returns into the gable wall. That box is finished and flashed, and only then is the rake fascia (barge), which dies onto the top of the cornice box, installed. That’s the classical method, and I believe it looks better and is at least as easy to build as modern variants.
—Arne Waldstein, Housatonic, Mass.
The editor replies: You’re right, but blame us for the error, not John. We used the word classic; he didn’t.
As in times past, you have reversed the proportion of the pins and tails in the drawing of the so-called dovetail for the pantry tray in “Maximize Pantry Storage” (FHB #185, p. 73), ending up with a joint—despite the hours that are required to make it—that is both unattractive and fragile.
The simplest and quickest way to make one of these drawers is with nailed butt joints or plain rabbets (the tongue is also pointless) for corners, with a plywood bottom glued into its groove. Indestructible. Your entire editorial staff couldn’t pull it apart.
—John Kelsey, Ridgefield, Conn.
Wiring outlets correctly
I am not a licensed electrician, but I have built two personal residences for my family over the years. I was taught that you cannot use a device to continue a circuit, as you show in the sidebar “Don’t overstuff the box” in the article “Problem-Solving Electrical Boxes” (FHB #186).
My arthritic hands would have liked to wire a box the way you show. Instead, I was taught to tie the incoming and outgoing circuit wires together with a pigtail to take to the device. Who’s right?
—Ed Patten, Valley Center, Calif.
Lynn Underwood, a buildingcode official in Norfolk, Va., replies: There is no reason based on the National Electrical Code that a connection cannot be made using a device, if it is listed for that purpose. In fact, outlets are provided with screw connections on each side for just that reason. However, some electricians (Rex Cauldwell, for instance) tie the incoming and outgoing circuits together with pigtails that feed the outlet (“Installing Electrical Boxes and Receptacles,” FHB #103). Then, as you suggest, the entire circuit does not fail if a single outlet fails. But that is not a code requirement.
Rubber roofing qualifies as a lifetime roof
One of the options you left out of your recent “5 Roofs That Will Last a Lifetime” article (FHB #185, p. 88) was recycled rubber roofing. I’ve found at least one manufacturer of this product, Gem Inc. (www.euroslate.ca), that produces a slate- and a shake-imitation roofing product that is lightweight, extremely durable, easy to install, can be walked on, and even has sound-dampening and thermal properties. Best of all, this roofing product looks as good as the real thing, and it diverts tons of rubber tires from the landfill.
—Markus Saufferer, Nanaimo, B.C.
Questioning the utility of kitchen desks
In your April/May issue (FHB #186, p. 69), there is a photo of a very nice kitchen desk. As a kitchen designer, I find a lot of these in homes, and I take out more of them than I put back. While today’s kitchen certainly needs a place for household records, bills, cookbooks, and other papers as well—what I call The Drop Zone for mail, keys, purse, etc.—it’s very rare to find anyone who actually wants to sit and face a wall as they work. Most people will take the things they need to a table, an island, or some other place where they can look outside. While it’s tempting to argue that facing a wall might reduce distractions, homework generally requires a bit more space to spread out than a typical kitchen desk affords, and let’s face it, kitchen desks are rarely as tidy as they are in magazine photos.
While it’s true a few people still insist they want (and will use) a knee space, far more homeowners are asking for additional storage instead.
—Kevin Theilen, Saint Charles, Ill.
Wire mesh, not rebar, for crack control in slabs
Regarding the “Q&A” item “Reducing the risk of cracks in concrete slabs” (FHB #185, p. 98), I think there were a couple of potential misunderstandings in the advice given to a reader.
The reason that rebar is used is because it holds the slab together during a seismic event, which is especially important when it is part of the structural support for a building. The rebar will not prevent cracking; it only governs the size and location of cracks if the concrete is not properly cured. In fact, using heavy reinforcement can make the problem worse. A better solution for crack control is to use a heavier welded wire mesh, put it on form spacers, and make sure you cure the slab properly. It’s also cheaper. Finally, if you don’t want a cracked slab, compact what is under it thoroughly.
—Chester Machniewski , P.E. Seattle
Sound advice from a recording engineer
As a recording engineer who works in sound studios, and as a carpenter who has built several of them, I’ve got some comments about your article on sound control (FHB #184, “The Quest for a Quiet Room,” p. 55).
First, there is no such thing as soundproofing. When clients ask for it, you’ve got to convince them that the best you can do is to reduce sound transmission. Then you’ve got to find out what kind of sound you’re talking about, whether it needs to be kept in or out, and whether it’s high frequency, low frequency, or all frequencies. Your article dealt with normal house noises and was good as far as it went, but today, we’re talking about media noise more and more frequently. That 5.1 sound system in the TV room can pack a lot of power. So can the sound system in Junior’s room.
Sealing up any holes with foam and caulk is a good start. But the transmission of noise through the common framing members is almost impossible to eliminate in a home. And the staggeredstud solution for walls frequently fails to work because the plates and sills are common, not to mention the floor. The house’s floors are very good low-frequency transmitters.
So what can you do? First, mass is your friend. Double or triple drywall works very well. Shockingly well, in fact. Mass, mass, mass.
Floors benefit from this approach as well. A sandwich of subfloor, Homasote and/or drywall (yes, drywall), and another plywood subfloor will help a lot to prevent sound from using the floor to enter or escape a room. Stiffening the floor helps as well by preventing it from acting as a diaphragm. These steps also will make a media room sound fantastic. A room with mass in the walls, floor, and ceiling has a feeling that is hard to describe, but trust me, your clients will love it.
—Phil Brown, San Rafael, Calif.
Lally columns need strong foundations
Mike Guertin’s article on stiffening bouncy floors was, as expected, excellent (FHB #184, p. 90). It might have been even better if it had contained a bit of extra information regarding footings, however. First, it’s important that the Lally column land in the center of the footing. Get it off center, and the load can cause the footing to rotate, and the column to drop. Next, residential footings generally need to be made from at least 2500-psi concrete. Finally, the bases and tops of steel columns need to be bolted to the footing and to the beam.
—Andy Engel, Roxbury, Conn.
Mike Guertin replies: Yup, you’re dead on. I actually go for 3000-psi concrete with embedded anchors, but we didn’t have room for all of those details in the article.
Seal door bottoms to prevent warping
I was a little disappointed with the “Building Skills” column in the February/March issue (FHB #185, p. 114). Nothing was done to seal the bottom of the door after it was trimmed. No primer, no penetrating wood sealer. Big problem.
I’ve made painters nutty by being adamant about priming or sealing the tops and bottoms of every door, but I’ve seen new doors warp in two weeks without proper treatment. Exposed end grain in the stiles sucks moisture out of the air, causing warping. For interior doors, I prime and paint, or seal twice with a penetrating sealer like Penofin. For exterior doors, I use four coats of either primer and paint, or I use exterior penetrating sealer. If there isn’t time to prime or seal the door bottom properly, at least add one coat of primer or one coat of penetrating sealer.
—Johnny Quest, via email