Reader Feedback: Issue 156, June/July 2003
In memoriam Zachary Gaulkin 1965-2003
The Fine Homebuilding staff would like to dedicate this issue to our friend and former colleague, Zack Gaulkin, whose untimely death in March left us shocked and saddened. Zack worked at The Taunton Press for four years, and as far as we can tell, he never missed a deadline or forgot a friend. And when he left the magazine to return to Maine, it was because he put his family above all else.
Somehow, Zack managed to combine an editor’s cynicism with a 6-year-old’s zest for life. He took his work seriously and himself not at all. Some of us may live twice as long, but we will count ourselves lucky to live even half as well.
Engineered-lumber is best suited for simple roofs
Regarding “Roof Framing with Engineered Lumber” by John Spier (FHB #153, pp. 68-73), I’d like to offer a cautionary note. Not all roof designs should be built using engineered lumber. The special properties of engineered lumber are better used in simple shed-roof or gable-roof systems rather than those complicated by valleys, hips or multiple ridgelines.
Although engineered wood bears significantly greater loads than conventional lumber, it’s important to remember that the loads do not disappear; they are just transferred to points farther away. Because I-joist rafters cannot accommodate either collar ties or ceiling joists to prevent the walls from spreading, much of the total roof load must be borne by big, structural ridge beams.
When these ridge beams span great distances, they transfer and concentrate many loads onto the columns at their ends. It is not unusual to see 10,000-lb. to 20,000-lb. point loads imposed on the walls and floors below. I have seen many roof designs that give too little thought to these facts.
—Tom Pfauth, Ann Arbor, MI
Vinyl floors need underlayment
In “Tools & Materials” (FHB #154, p. 118), you make the statement that the extra 1⁄8-in. thickness of Georgia-Pacific’s ToughPly Sturd-I-Floor 7⁄8-in. plywood means that you can forgo an additional layer of underlayment beneath vinyl flooring. Maybe you will be able to increase the centers of the framing members without getting a bouncy floor, but the additional layer of underlayment does more than add stiffness. An additional layer isolates the finish floor from movement of the subfloor and framing while minimizing telegraphing of seams through the finish floor.
I’ve been in the flooring business for 35 years, and I’ve earned every one of my gray hairs. One of the first jobs that I was assigned when I went into construction management was supervising the replacement of thousands and thousands of dollars of vinyl flooring because some senior manager had decided that now that we had glued down tongue-and-groove subfloors, we could save money by eliminating the underlayment. You don’t forget those kinds of lessons.
—Jim McIntyre, Streetsboro, OH
A correction about grounds and neutrals
You published a contribution of mine in your last issue, “Grounds and Neutrals Serve Different Purposes” (FHB #154, “What’s the Difference?” p. 128), and unfortunately, some errors were introduced into the piece during the editing process.
In three instances (in paragraphs two and three), a statement is made that the ground or neutral wire is at 0v relative to the hot wire. This is wrong. The ground wire is by definition at 0v, and in practice, the neutral wire is at (or very close to) 0v relative to the ground wire. The potential of the hot wire is 120v relative to (above) the ground wire. And the ground wire and the neutral wire are at 120v relative to the hot wire—but they’re at 120v below the potential of the hot wire (not at 0v relative to the hot wire). This point is a distinction with an important difference.
If the ground or neutral really were at 0v relative to the hot, a measurement of voltage between the ground (or neutral) wire and the hot wire would show 0v. This is not the case. In fact, such a measurement will show 120v.
—Clifford A. Popejoy, Sacramento, CA
Wrap electrical wires clockwise
Clifford A. Popejoy did a great job of explaining the functional differences between the ground and neutral electrical wires in “What’s the Difference?” (FHB #154, p. 128), but what’s wrong with the picture that accompanied the article?
The ground wire (bare copper) is shown correctly wrapped around the receptacle screw in a clockwise direction, but the neutral wire (white) appears to be incorrectly wrapped in the opposite direction. Tightening the screw will tend to pull the wire out from under the head of the screw.
Even if it doesn’t come loose, the wire that is being wrapped backward may yield a high-resistance connection that could cause future problems such as overheating. Poor electrical connections are a major cause of house fires. The direction of the wire wrap is extremely important. The devil is in the details.
—Larry Morgan, Hampstead, MD
The editor replies: Don’t blame Cliff; the fault is ours. We mocked up the photo here in our office, and in our haste, we wrapped the neutral wire the wrong way. Thanks for catching the error.
A window in four hours? Come on.
You sure make life sound simple. I hope that my customers don’t read the article “New Window in an Old Wall” and expect me to perform to those standards (FHB #154, pp. 58-63). You make it sound like it took four manhours to replace a window. I see no mention of scaffolding, even though the window in the article is high above the ground. And although you didn’t show it, the ground below the window doesn’t look like it was level, either.
I see at least two workers, and because they both have on different shirts at different times, I have to assume that the job wasn’t finished on the same day that it was started. Even more interesting is that the T-shirts have electrical and concrete logos on them, which leads me to believe that the two gentlemen shown are not even carpenters. To do the complete project including setup and teardown, which is what us working guys have to be paid for, would take more than four hours (either manhours or clock hours).
—Ed Selby, via e-mail
Managing editor Roe A. Osborn replies: Your first suspicion is right: The four-hour time frame did not include setting up scaffolding (they used pump jacks, by the way), nor did it include the electric company coming to cover the wires. But as the photographer and editor, I can attest that those two guys did do the job in four hours, and that included my stopping them every other minute to pose for a photo.
As for the different shirts, most of the job was accomplished in the morning of an extremely hot day last August (check out the sweat stain on the back of the shirt in the bottom photo on p. 63). When they got the outside prep work done, I took these guys to lunch, and both of them changed into fresh shirts, which they kept on for the rest of the day.
Both guys are accomplished carpenters. (You never wear work shirts with another company’s logo on the back?) Rick Arnold has worked as a carpenter for decades and has been a contributing editor for FHB since 1997. Charlie Myers, who used to work for Rick, teaches carpentry and building at a vocational school.
Readers object to bookcase article
Under normal conditions, I wouldn’t be too critical of your publication, but this time I think you’ve lost it. Your cover article by Gary M. Katz concerning the construction of a bookcase (FHB #154, pp. 64-69) is something that should have been highlighted in Popular Mechanics. The quality that I have come to expect of your magazine was compromised by including such information. Quality materials? Time-proven construction methods? Hardly.
For the home woodworker, Gary’s methods may be a solution, but I don’t think most professional carpenters who do quality work would accept that this is a viable way to satisfy their customers.
By the way, I do subscribe to Popular Mechanics and find it is also a fine magazine. But it serves a different purpose than Fine Homebuilding, and the situation should remain that way.
—Robert E. Rockwell, Litchfield, CT
I was very disappointed in the bookcase article that appeared in your April/May issue (FHB #154, pp. 64-69). What does a cheap bookcase have to do with fine home building? Are you trying to redefine your magazine? Perhaps it was the style of the bookcase, or the lack of challenge in construction methods, or the nonexistent detail, which screamed “mass production,” but the whole thing looked like a kit purchased from Kmart. Where’s the true craftsmanship? Keep fine home building in Fine Homebuilding.
—Sharon Braun, via e-mail
Caulk every split crack or seam when painting?
In the April/ May issue, Jon Tobey wrote an article on spraying the exterior of a house (“Repainting a House: Don’t Be Afraid to Spray,” FHB #154, pp. 84-89). I think one of his statements needs elucidation.
As a retired fifth-generation carpenter, I used to thank painters for their propensity to do just what Jon said, “caulk every split, crack or seam that could compromise the paint.” That mentality fed me a ton of repair business. Most painters just don’t understand wood and its relationship with moisture.
Mother Nature advocates moving moisture around (in and out, up to down, etc.). I used to tell my customers that cracks are just like cholesterol: Some of them are good, and some bad. The bad cracks let water in; the good ones let it out. If you seal up the good ones, the moisture will sooner or later find an escape, i.e. by rotting the wood. Look at unpainted flour mills that are 200 years old and are still standing because the building breathed. You should never ever try to seal up a wood-frame building. Stone, yes. Concrete and steel, yes. Not wood.
Incidentally, Jon also should have mentioned that high-quality sealants cost more than $1 a tube, are not called caulking and are not water-based.
—Craig Brown, Atlanta, GA
Jon Tobey replies: In the first place, unpainted structures, such as flour mills, aren’t trying to keep paint on the surface. The oxidized layer on the surface of the wood acts just like bluing on a rifle barrel and protects the wood from further deterioration. In the second place, these structures, by their open nature, have the same environment inside and out, so there is little osmosis through the wood to balance out environmental conditions.
On a house, however, you frequently have very different environmental conditions inside and out (think moist bathrooms and kitchens). Mother Nature wants to balance the humidity inside the house and out. If there is no other way, moisture will go through the wood and lift the paint. I won’t go into a discussion here about venting a house , but suffice it to say, if you want paint to stick to a house, make sure venting doesn’t have to happen through painted surfaces. Period.
You do raise a point that perhaps requires clarification: On clapboard houses, the lap joints between the clapboards do act as vents. I was in no way implying that these are caulked.
Finally, the caulk I use, White Lightning (800-241-5295; www.wlcaulk.com), is a latex caulk, and it costs $1 tube if you buy it by the case as I do.
Will the Makita AG125 handle short nails?
Thanks for the article “Nail Guns for Joist Hangers” (FHB #154, pp. 75-79). I always find your tool reviews interesting and helpful. I’ve been thinking about a joist-hanger nail gun, as I am not very good with a hammer in the confined spaces where joist hangers typically reside. For my purposes, the Makita AG125 seemed ideal. However, joist-hanger nails, as pointed out in the review, are 11⁄2 in. to 21⁄2 in. long. The specs for the Makita say it handles nails 215⁄16 in. to 47⁄8 in. long. It is obviously not designed as a joist-hanger nailer.
Perhaps Mr. Guertin will round out his review on this product by informing us as to how the AG125 can be used for joist hangers. Does it work satisfactorily on both 11⁄2-in. and 21⁄2-in. nails?
—Roger Heath, Ophelia, VA
Mike Guertin replies: I use 10d to 16d common nails for a lot of connections, so the AG125 is perfect. However, as you can imagine, the throat of the AG125 is deep, so you can’t just drop 11⁄2-in. nails in and expect to see the point. What I typically do with shorter nails is tap each nail into the metal-connector hole so that just the point enters the wood beneath. Then, after I’ve loaded a number of holes, I cover each nail with the AG125 and drive them home. It’s certainly faster and less laborious than hand-nailing.
Why you shouldn’t nail down trusses at midspan
When I sat down with the February/March issue of Fine Homebuilding, I turned to the section I always read first, “Breaktime,” and came across a discussion right up my line of work, “Fasten trusses to center walls,” posted by Oistad (FHB #153, p. 18). He asks whether or not to do this and why.
The first thing that disturbs me is that his sales representative cannot give a reason why he should never fasten trusses to center walls. If he is a sales rep of the trussmanufacturing company, he should understand his product, or at least be able to make a phone call to get an answer for his customer.
All trusses are built with camber, which is a slight upward crown of the bottom chord, to allow for wind and snow-load deflection. If the truss is pinned down, it can’t deflect properly, which can result in trusschord or web breakage.
Also, when a truss is pinned down, it can’t move due to weather changes, and the truss can start to bear on the non-loadbearing wall, which creates a load issue and can cause the bottom chord of the truss to break. Allowing the truss to lift or try lifting the wall, which the truss is not engineered to do, also can break the bottom chord.
To prevent the drywall from cracking at the corners, drywall should not be attached to the truss within 16 in. of the non-loadbearing wall. Instead, use 2x blocking or drywall stops in conjunction with rooftruss clips (Simpson Strong-Tie Co. Inc.; 800-999-5099; www.strongtie.com). The truss clip allows the truss to move, and it gives you something to attach the top of the wall to.
I realize that lots of carpenters make the mistake of attaching trusses to the wall at midspan. I did it myself before I started working in the truss industry. But if the truss fails due to being pinned down to the wall, the repair will not be covered under warranty by the truss company nor by insurance. The repairs will come out of your own pocket.
—Bert A. Young, St. Louis, MO