Reader Feedback: Issue 158, October/November 2003
We try to make every issue of Fine Homebuilding better than the last. But once in a while, we roll up the carpet, get out the sledgehammers, and really go at it. That’s what we did last summer. But we weren’t just looking for a face-lift. We wanted a magazine that works better, filled with more information, easier to use, more fun to read. The issue in your hand is the result of our efforts.
Besides redesigning the cover so that you can see at a glance what topics are featured inside, we’ve updated the look of our regular departments (and rearranged them, too). But most important, we’ve added a couple of new departments. “Building Skills” (p.120) will cover the fundamentals of home construction, from mortising a hinge with a chisel to soldering a copper pipe. And at the other end of the spectrum, “Master Carpenter” (p. 140) will discuss advanced carpentry techniques from coffered ceilings to eyebrow dormers.
You’ll find other changes throughout the issue, some subtle, some not, but all of them calculated to make Fine Homebuilding more valuable to you. I hope you like what you see and agree it’s a better magazine. But I want you to let us know in any case. We need to hear from you, now and in the future, to make Fine Homebuilding as good as it can be.
—Kevin Ireton, editor
Questions framing square as structural connector
I just received my latest issue of Fine Homebuilding and was appalled by the “Trade Secret” published on the back of the cover wrap. I am referring to the tip on reinforcing a roof-deck post with an aluminum framing square. A framing square is not a structural building component. It’s not designed to have any stress applied to it. The aluminum used is of unknown properties, and the sharp internal right-angle corner would be a prime failure point.
Mr. Hornstein might reply that he has dozens of installations without problems, but that is no excuse for a technique that would never receive a building department’s structural approval.
—Michael Moser, Beaverton, Ore.
Designer/Builder David Hornstein replies: I agree that framing squares are not designed for structural purposes, but they seem pretty strong to me. Additionally, all the posts are installed this way and are linked together by rails and subrails so that the whole assembly works as a system. Still, I would admit that the best solution would be for Simpson Strong-Tie or some other company to design a connector for just this application.
Comments on bathroom-fan installation
I read Mike Guertin’s article on bathroom-fan installation (FHB #157, pp. 96-101) and noticed a few things that could have been done to make the job even better. One, the fan should have been attached to the ceiling joists instead of the drywall. Two, the duct should have been attached with automotive clamps instead of tape. Three, the duct needs to be insulated to prevent condensation that can ruin the fan motor.
—Jim Ambrose, Marne, Mich.
Mike Guertin replies: The model fan I used comes with brackets that attach to the ceiling joists for use in new construction. The brackets would be preferable if you don’t already have a finished ceiling in place. On this project, I did drive screws from the side of the fan housing into the nearby joist, and that step was not specifically noted. I could have headered off between the joists with blocking to mount the fan to, but that seemed unnecessary. The drywall was anchored solidly to furring strips less than 11⁄2 in. away on each side of the opening.
Automotive clamps are a good idea, but I would not use them instead of tape. I would use them in addition to. I think that acrylic tape or duct mastic is necessary to obtain a good seal. With corrugated aluminum duct, clamps usually won’t seal the joint completely.
Insulating the duct is a good idea, and insulating wraps with vapor barriers are available for the purpose. But I don’t ordinarily wrap the exhaust duct and haven’t had any problems not doing so. The Panasonic fan motor has a vertical axis, and the exhaust port is on the side of the housing so that it won’t be exposed to condensate dripping back from the exhaust pipe. I’ve installed numerous fans in a similar fashion to what I described in the article (including in my own house) and have never experienced condensation dripping back. I think that with the extended run time using the delay switch, the high-moisture laden air is exhausted before the fan stops and there is little moisture in the ambient house air to condense within the pipe.
What about dust collection for sliding miter saws?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Phillip Madonia’s question about “Dust collection for miter saws” (FHB #157, p. 20) was not answered. Phillip specified a sliding miter saw, which is a different ball of wax from a nonsliding saw. I’ve been unsuccessful in developing a dust-collection system that works for my sliding saw, but my premise is that the dustcollection shroud has to move with the saw as it slides. Is Gary Katz suggesting that the shroud be deep enough to accommodate the travel of the saw for a slider? Also, FYI, Penn State Industries (800-377-7297; www.pennstateind.com) makes a dust hood for miter saws called the Big Gulp.
—Mike Cain, via e-mail
Gary M. Katz replies: You’re right, my response wasn’t directed entirely at sliding compound-miter saws. As I said, I have a DeWalt chopsaw and a Bosch sliding compoundmiter saw, but I use the same shroud for both saws. Yes, it’s extremely spacious but still works well enough to prevent the dust from blowing all over my shop—the way it used to. Of course, it’s a lot more effective with the chopsaw because any dust that isn’t picked up by the onboard vacuum port goes directly into the hood mounted beneath the shroud, and I push the DeWalt all the way back into the shroud.
I have made countless attempts to collect dust from my sliding compound-miter saw, and this was the best system I’ve come up with. If you can improve on it, please send the solution to Fine Homebuilding.
Differing opinions on the greenest house
I greatly appreciated Peter Pfeiffer’s article “The Greenest House in America?” (FHB #157, pp. 76-81). It was packed with useful information. My only criticism is that the article was too short to cover the building techniques fully. I would like to see Pfeiffer become a regular columnist for Fine Homebuilding so readers could have more details and suggestions from him. He seems very well qualified to write on energy and conservation issues, which are important to everyone.
—Gene Wilson, via e-mail
Peter Pfeiffer’s home is certainly exceptional, with many concepts and details worth replicating. But I must take issue with his comment that the “house debunks the common myth that building green demands sacrifice and compromise in design and comfort.” If anything, it perpetuates the myth. A home for six people that tops 4000 sq. ft. appears to miss the restraint asked for in developing green architecture. By definition, a home that is twice as large as necessary will waste resources in its construction and long-term use.
—Nick Salmon, Missoula, Mont.
The Austin Green Builder Program is run by an energy company, and only an energy company would give Peter Pfeiffer’s house its highest point rating. But don’t try to tell me that the greenest house in America is 4175 sq. ft. and that it’s in Austin, Texas, but does not have solar collection.
—D. Robert Miller, via e-mail
Peter Pfeiffer replies: If a sport-utility vehicle could be manufactured that got 50 miles per gallon and sold for a reasonable price and was made out of recycled and renewable materials, wouldn’t it be a good thing, especially given the popularity of SUVs today? If we really wanted significant resource conservation, would we stand a better chance by doing this or by trying to persuade everyone to abandon their cars and use mass transit?
My intention in writing the article was to share some practical strategies I’ve learned over the past quarter of a century about how to build “green,” no matter how big the house. By employing these strategies, we can cut energy consumption by a third and significantly reduce our environmental impact without having to compromise our standard of living.
As for the Austin Green Builder Program: Yes, its rebates and incentive programs are funded by profits from our cityowned utility. But in almost 10 years on the commission (including two as chair) that advises our mayor and council on the program’s operation, I never had any inkling of the electric-utility department adversely influencing the conservation mission of the program. One thing I did indeed see was the avoidance of having to build another coal, nuclear, or gas-fired power plant because of the peak demand and energy-production capacity shaved as a direct result of our conservation programs. This win-win situation continues to save our community money while reducing consumption and preserving the environment.
Regarding solar collectors, I considered two types for my home, solar hot water and photovoltaic; neither offers a good payback yet. Due to energy-conserving design and construction strategies, including a 94% efficient gas water heater, the payback on solar augmentation of our hot-water production would have been 25 to 35 years. The same construction dollars applied elsewhere, such as to the foam-based air-infiltration/insulation system, achieved its payback in three to five years. I considered this strategy a more reasonable return on my investment.
As for photovoltaics, the home is wired and set up to take advantage of them in the future. However, at today’s cost for solar electric systems, one can achieve three times the environmental and financial benefit by employing energy-conservation strategies compared to energy-production strategies.
Firefighter says, “Grab the rungs”
The article “Extension Ladder Basics” (FHB #157, pp. 86-91) recommended that when climbing or descending a ladder, you should grab the rails, not the rungs. As a former professional firefighter from the Los Angeles City Fire Department, I can state categorically that this is an all-too-common mistake. Our training in the use of ladders emphatically stated that the safest hand grip on the ladder is to place your hand straight out in front of your face near the center of the rung, maintaining one hand on the rung at all times, when ascending or descending. In the event of a misstep with your feet, your grip on the rung will afford you the best grip to prevent falling. Trying to sustain your entire body weight by gripping the rails is not as effective or safe.
One other point of safety in the use of ladders: If a poorly placed ladder begins to fall to the side, ride it down and roll free just before impact with the ground. The ladder forms an arc during descent, which is slower in accumulated speed than a straight drop to the ground. The human tendency is to jump off the ladder during the fall, which changes your fall from an arc to a straight-line drop. Obviously, it is better to secure your ladder properly before climbing it. However, ladders do fall, and we need to be prepared to make the best decision instantly to protect ourselves. Ride it down!
—L. Duane Read, Olympia, Wash.
Readers upset by Great Moment
I usually find “Great Moments in Building History” entertaining, but the story in your last issue promoted dishonesty (FHB #157, p. 146). While I realize that the writer asked permission to take the chainsaw from his neighbor’s trash, the responsible thing would have been to return the saw after realizing it could be fixed so easily.
—Craig A. Caver, Glendora, Calif.
My first concern after reading your recent “Great Moments in Building History” is about the lack of ethics displayed by the author. But even more disconcerting is that your editorial staff apparently condones his actions, and even finds them humorous.
—Jim Glasgow, via e-mail
A reasonably ethical fifth grader would have known that the chainsaw needed to be immediately returned to the neighbor. I’ve been building for 20 years and know full well that many people in our trade would keep the saw just as Kirk Anderson did in your recent “Great Moments in Building History.” But you folks need to represent the best of our trade.
—Ed Kubicka, Sandusky, Ohio