Reader Feedback: Issue 166, October/November 2004
Closer to home (building)
My name is Gerardo M. Siniscalchi. I am a National Guard officer serving with Bravo Company 133rd Engineer Battalion in Mosul, Iraq. Our unit is a construction battalion that does everything, including carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical, and excavation. If it has to do with construction, we are the ones to do it in the northern half of Iraq.
When I am not deployed for a year away from my family, I am a general contractor in a small town in upstate New York. My company does all aspects of construction, mostly residential, but I specialize in masonry and tilework. My father and I have built fireplaces all over the East Coast, and I have done many mosaics for customers who know fine quality.
The reason I am writing is that I was thumbing through a pile of magazines in our recreation room when I came across the December/January issue of Fine Homebuilding. You have no idea how happy something so small can make a person. I love your magazine for many reasons.
First, I would like to think that my work is comparable to what you publish. But it is also nice to see that others share the same standards for quality craftsmanship that I demand on my projects. I think I read that magazine at least three times; it just made me feel that much closer to home.
Your magazine gets my wheels turning, gives me ideas, and inspires me to create fine home building. I look forward to getting the next issue. It will help me pass the long days in Iraq.
—1 Lt Gerardo M. Siniscalchi, Mosul, Iraq
Put receptacles in the baseboard
Gary Striegler’s article “A Simple Approach to Raised-Panel Wainscot” (FHB #165, pp. 82-87) is a good example of how engineered materials and alternative construction methods can be applied to details that outperform or cost less than their traditional (all-wood) counterparts.
But I can’t help thinking that the wainscot shown on the cover of the last issue would be much more attractive if the electrical receptacle were installed horizontally in the baseboard instead of placed in the field of one of the panels. Although the materials and methods that we employ to build fine homes may change, the need to coordinate the work of each of the trades to ensure the quality of the finished product stays the same.
—Timothy P. Cleary, Williamsburg, Va.
PBS should feature a smaller house
I find it ironic that PBS thinks it appropriate to feature the construction of a 7000-sq.-ft. house in their new series on energy-efficient home building (FHB #164, “Cross Section,” p. 20). If in fact the goal of the show is to “arm consumers with enough information to challenge professionals to build greener, more healthful homes,” then perhaps featuring a smaller, more space-efficient and socially responsible home would be wise. The gross waste of resources that go into building homes of this size borders on the obscene. The fact that this home will meet Energy Star and American Lung Association standards is absurd. What about the embodied energy and pollution created in the manufacturing and harvesting of materials going into a home that is at least three times the size that any family needs?
—Rory McDonnell, Stratford, Ont., Canada
Don’t confuse voltage and amperage
I like the fact that you are presenting articles that are about basic information, such as “Installing a Circuit Breaker in an Existing Panel” (FHB #165, pp. 56-60). However, I think it is especially important to use correct terminology. If you were in my classroom, I would correct your author’s choice of terms when he refers to “voltage.” The article discusses working with an electrical panel that is rated at 240v and 200 amperes. If a panel with more “capacity” is needed, the new panel will still have a “voltage” rating of 240v, but the “current” rating would most likely be greater.
On p. 57, under the heading “Check the panel for space and load,” it states, “If the panel is older or rated for lower voltage, the total draw should be tested …”. The term “lower voltage” should read “lower amperage” or “lower current-handling capacity.” Draw refers to current, which is measured in amperes (amps).
Throughout the article, a voltage meter is suggested for checking the draw on a circuit. An ammeter, or a meter capable of testing current, is what should be mentioned. The voltage is supposed to be 120v or 240v, depending on which circuit is involved, no matter what the capacity of the main panel or the number of circuits in it.
And finally, the two circuit breakers on the bottom of p. 59 have their captions reversed. The wider (double width) image is the “two-pole breaker,” and the one with the two smaller toggles is the “halfheight breaker.”
—Ken L. Smith, via email
Factory-built is wasteful
As a carpentry contractor for the past 24 years, I have tried factory-built panels and have found them wasteful (FHB #164, “Factory-Built Houses,” pp. 56-63).
With panels being delivered to the site in 6-ft., 8-ft., and 12-ft. sections, there is an extra stud at the start and finish of each panel. They’re everywhere. To me, this is inefficient and irresponsible. Add up all the extra studs with panelization, and you may have 30 or more extra studs over a conventional stick-framing package. How about unnecessary lumber cost? How about thermal bridging?
—Michael C. Schettine, via email
Improving clay soils
Yikes! Eric Nelson apparently knows a lot about lawns (FHB #165, “A New Lawn Completes Any Building Project,” pp. 92-95), but I have the feeling he doesn’t work in clay. Here in eastern Ohio, thanks to the Ice Age glaciers, plenty of areas have nothing but. You learn in your first landscaping class that clay + sand = cement. Or at least pottery. Ask anyone around East Liverpool, where the economy was based on pottery for generations. To break up clay soils, please add organics, not sand.
—Rosemarie Keating, via email
In the June/July issue (FHB #164, “Building Skills,” p. 116), Tom O’Brien states that when installing a coping-saw blade, “make sure the teeth face forward (the same as a standard handsaw).” But the Bluejacket’s Manual (the United States Navy, circa 1940) taught me that fine-bladed saws such as coping saws and hacksaws should have blades installed to cut on the pull stroke. This advice has served me well all these years. Using this method, I almost never jam or break a sawblade.
—William Andors, Englewood, Fla.
MDF shrinks and swells
In your cover story about raised-panel wainscot (FHB #165, pp. 82-87), the author, Gary Striegler, states that MDF is “extremely stable and won’t move with swings in humidity.” This is just not true. For example, SierraPine’s Medex MDF has a linear expansion of plus or minus 0.3% in the relativehumidity range of 50% to 80%. Two 48-in. panels nailed to the wall with a butt joint should have a gap between them of up to 0.288 in.
MDF should be treated like all wood products; assume it will move all over the place. Many homes in the Northeast experience a range of relative humidity from 10% to 80%. As I write this, my home (no central air; wife is not happy) has a relative humidity of 82%. It is raining outside, and our windows are open.
Please get the correct information out to your readers: MDF without proper expansion built into the details is a problem waiting to happen.
—Jeffrey Warshafsky, via email
Gary Striegler replies: The testing standards that yield a 0.3% maximum expansion involve exposing MDF to extremely humid conditions for as long as 30 days.
Under those conditions, the largest MDF panel used in my project would move about 3⁄32 in. A glued-up oak panel, on the other hand, could move 3⁄4 in. across the grain. I stand by my statement that MDF is “extremely stable,” but clearly, I shouldn’t have said that it “won’t move with swings in humidity.” I should have said it won’t move very much.
Tool review needs chart
Your article on random-orbit sanders (FHB #165, pp. 61-67) was well written, but needlessly deficient. Because the author has used all the products in the survey, I value his choices on “Best Overall” and “Best Value.” He also wisely notes that the reader’s choice will “depend on which of the (extra) features are most important.” The article, however, lacks a chart that lists the features of each of the sanders tested.
For example, the article does not say whether Festool ETS 150/3 EQ, a “Best Overall” choice, uses PSA or hook-andloop sanding disks. Festool’s Web site appears to conceal this feature, referring to its disks as “stickfix.” Similarly, a pad brake is to me an important feature, but the article fails to note which of the tested products have them.
—Thomas K. Jones, via email
The editor replies: Some readers have complained that our tool reviews are too long. “Just tell us which one you liked best,” they say. We know it’s not that simple, but we do wrestle with how much information to include in every tool review. And we always debate whether to include a chart. This time, we decided that a chart detailing features on 21 random-orbit sanders would take up too much space. We also assumed, wrongly it seems, that readers could easily track down details on manufacturers’ Web sites.
Comments on deck connections
In the article addressing the house-to-deck connection (FHB #164, pp. 74-75), the author shows copper flashing at the connection, supposedly to let excess water weep. But with the sealant (or caulk) installed as shown, there is no way for the water to weep if it gets behind the siding, which we all know it will. The sealant becomes a dam for the water and will rot the siding from the blind side or find its way into the wall itself.
—Glen Morgenweck, Houston, Texas
I enjoyed Scott Grice’s article on connecting decks (FHB #164, pp. 74-75). However, in addition to flashing, gravity, and sealants, he should be aware of galvanic corrosion. I was taught to watch out for placing materials that are more noble (less anodic) physically above those lower on the galvanic scale. Placing a copper flashing right above galvanized hangers and bolts may cause them to corrode because galvanized steel is more anodic than copper. I would suggest making the flashing out of galvanized steel.
—Mike Orth, Morgan Hill, Calif.