Reader Feedback: Issue 133, August/September 2000
Fake isn’t fine
I will not be renewing my Fine Homebuilding subscription. Here’s why. I was appalled by your article on fake, stick-on stone in the April/May issue (FHB #130, pp. 92-97). There is nothing “fine” about using fake stone. The irony of having an article about a beautiful handmade staircase banister next to a piece on fake stone was not lost on me. I really thought I was getting a higher-quality publication. Would Fine Gardening publish an article about landscaping with plastic plants?
Fake is fake is fake. You can put racing stripes and mag wheels on a Chevette, but it’s still a Chevette. If you can’t afford stacked stone, don’t do it. Faking it only says “tacky.”
—Pat McGraw, stonemason, via e-mail
Readers defend magazine ads
I have been a loyal subscriber and reader for many years and was shocked to see a complaint regarding ads with “women in various stages of undress” (FHB #132, “Letters,” p. 8). I found four photos of women and one photo of a man in “various stages of undress.” As a former commercial photographer, I assume all these models had bathing suits on that simply were hidden from view by poses and props. The man was the most undressed, using a towel to cover his bathing suit, as expected in an ad for a sauna. I would not expect to see a woman in a business suit stepping out of a swimming pool or into a sauna, so the attire is certainly appropriate and modest as well.
If the “various stages of undress” pictured are offensive, I suggest offended readers should stay away from beaches, swimming pools, sporting events with cheerleaders, shopping malls with lingerie stores or swimwear stores, the homes of anyone with a spa or hot tub, ballet performances—in short, most of our public places of entertainment. And taking children to stores with magazine racks is strictly out of the bounds of decency, not to mention department-store advertisements in newspapers. Have you seen the ads for underwear?
In all seriousness, I do not find any of your ads to be the least bit tasteless and would not change them at all.
—Steve Krauss, Bellevue, WA
I live and work in Kuwait, and I take exception to letter written by Allen Sangree about ads showing women in “various stages of undress.”
Here in Kuwait, all Western publications are examined, and ads such as Mr. Sangree refers to are defaced with black markers. My mail from the States is also opened to examine it for any lewd contents. Religious interference with the government mandates this. I am only too proud to say that I am an American and that this does not happen in my country.
I’m sure that Mr. Sangree does not envision this as a possibility in the United States. But that’s how censorship starts.
Thank you for the finest publication in its field and for the articles, which I enjoy immensely. I’ll overlook the pornography.
—Ray Romero, Mahaboula, Kuwait
Second thoughts from an author of the basement-finishing article
The day that FHB #132 (with the article Rick Arnold and I wrote, “Finishing Basements”) arrived in my mailbox, I attended a daylong presentation by Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation, and author of the Builder’s Guide series of books recently published by The Taunton Press. During Joe’s presentation, I learned that the method I used to frame and insulate the exterior-wall assemblies in the project may be problematic in some situations.
The problem with the walls I framed is that the surface of the concrete wall will be the first cold surface moist air will touch. The potential for condensation here is greatest. By leaving an airspace and using fiberglass insulation, I’m permitting air to come in direct contact with cold concrete.
A better way to insulate the walls, and one recommended by Joe, is to apply polystyrene foamboard insulation directly to the concrete. Around pipes or other obstructions that may be in the way, the insulation can be fitted as well as possible and caulked or spray-foamed for a tight seal. This method prevents moisture-laden air from ever coming in contact with concrete. The dew-point temperature ends up being somewhere within the foam, so the inside face of the foam is warm and not subject to condensation. To finish the wall surface, furring strips can be fastened over the foamboard and into the concrete, or a frame wall could be built.
The other problem with the wall assembly is the steel studs. The steel will tend to be cold and a potential condensing surface because it cannot absorb or release moisture as wood can. It would be okay to use steel studs within the conditioned space of a basement, but not close to uninsulated concrete as illustrated in the article.
Fortunately, the basement I finished in the article was in a house that Rick Arnold and I built. The exterior of the concrete foundation walls is well insulated and drained so that the framing and insulating system I used will not be problematic because the inside face of the concrete is warm. Still, the foamboard solution would eliminate potential condensation problems.
It is important to consider each basement-finishing project individually. Try to discover how the exterior of the foundation walls is treated as well as the underside of the concrete slab. Determine if there is insulation, waterproofing or dampproofing, drainage piping, well-drained backfill, etc. Basement-finishing projects don’t lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all solution.
—Mike Guertin, East Greenwich, RI
Power plane’s depth of cut is unlimited
In his review of the Festo planer (FHB #132, “Tools & Materials,” p. 128), Scott McBride appears to have missed the planer’s ability to cut a rabbet of unlimited depth. The cutterhead guard retracts toward the tool body, removing obstructions to depth of cut. This feature allowed our crew, for instance, to cleanly and quickly remove one-quarter of each of a series of 12-in. dia. cedar logs used as corner posts. The ability to plane directly against an adjacent surface is another valuable feature. I have used this tool to provide drainage slope to an oak sill on French doors in place. Nothing else could have done this job so easily.
—Dennis Mullane, Berkeley, CA
Jewelry is dangerous on the job site
Your periodical is a pleasure to read, with much information of benefit. I do, however, have one point of contention: safety.
In every issue of your magazine, I see countless instances of safety being violated by individuals who wear personal adornments such as rings and watches. Having been involved in the aircraft-maintenance trade for more than 36 years, I can tell you this practice is a real hazard, be it from projections that will snag these items or from the hazard of electrical shock.
—R. E. Romero, Mahaboula, Kuwait
Don’t use nail guns on fake slates
I am writing in response to “Lightweight fake-slate roofing” (FHB #131, pp. 132, 134). Andy Engel begins apologetically, “I confess: I was watching This Old House,” and then goes on with a glowing review of Authentic Roof by Crowe Building Products Limited. These are roof shingles that look like slate but are made out of preconsumer recycled rubber and were used on Dick Silva’s Victorian house in an episode of This Old House.
If I am not mistaken, Engel’s product review repeats the installation error of the This Old House episode in asserting that the rubber shingles can be properly installed using air nailers. They should not be. I shared Engel’s giddy enthusiasm for the product until I checked out the Web site (www.authentic-roof.com). It says in no uncertain terms “do not use pneumatic nailers, do not nail extremely tight.” A call to the company confirmed this.
This may seem like a small error, but with all the new products that are coming out, errors such as this one are made all too often. Everyone in the construction industry should be on guard for this stuff. In my area, Maine, houses are built with scant specifications and little oversight by builders, owners and general contractors. Despite the fact that the roofer on This Old House said on camera that he had never used the product before, apparently neither Steve, Norm, Tom or Dick thought to read the directions and to insist on proper installation for the shingles.
This is the part of the letter where I am supposed to tell you that I expect sloppy work from This Old House, but that I expect much more of you at Fine Homebuilding because I rely on you for accurate information. I’m not going to do that, or did I? The truth is that nobody should rely on your magazine for the last word on construction details, and nobody should rely on subcontractors or salesman for those details, either. Installation specifications must come directly from the manufacturer. All that being said, I’d feel a lot better if you had caught this one with a five-minute visit to the Web site or by asking for a copy of the installation instructions with the samples. That should be standard practice.
I love the building media. I think that if building enthusiasts avail ourselves of all the resources out there, we can be the most knowledgeable and competent generation of builders who have ever swung hammers. But I am also aware of the fate of those individuals who act as sponges and not as filters in this environment. I have a picture in my mind of a builder sitting in his lawyer’s office with his head in his hands facing a lawsuit, muttering over and over to himself, “But I saw it on TV … that’s how they did it on TV … ”
—Charles Hall, Chebeague Island, ME
Canadian house makes the top-ten list
Rob Kovitz’s house (FHB #130, pp. 98-101) is among the top-ten ugliest houses you have ever featured. Maybe the top five. It is an atrocity.
The house has 264 lin. ft. of outside wall in a cold climate. Gimli is not Maine or Vermont; it is the Canadian subarctic.Winter nights routinely fall below –35°F, and the winter lasts forever. Gimli was originally settled by Icelandic immigrants. After their first winter in Canada, they all went back to Iceland.
When you open the home’s front door, the Arctic blast enters the living room. Try that when it is -40°F. And the house is heated with electricity.
Mr. Kovitz got one thing right: the color. When you live on the dark side of the moon, a positive color is needed to provide hope that you might make it through one more winter.
—Bill Stilwell, Dapp, AB, Canada
Just install another water heater
When I was adding a bathroom at some distance from a water heater, I realized there would be a long wait for hot water. Three-quarter in. copper holds about 1 qt. in every 10 ft., so the 60-ft. run I had to deal with meant some 6 qt. of water would have to be wasted just to flush the line, then who knows how much more to heat the pipes and produce hot water at the faucet.
Instead of any of the complex circulating-loop systems such as proposed in your “Q&A” column (FHB #130, p. 26), which by the way, require full access because the piping must be insulated, I just tucked a little 10-gal., 110v electric water heater at the end of the line in the new bathroom. It is supplied from the hot-water line, and its thermostat is set low, just hot enough for bathing purposes.
The result is instant hot water with no perceptible change in temperature. The 2 gal. of room-temperature water that are added to the tank on start-up are quickly diluted with hot water for very good temperature stability. The initial costs were modest, $150 for the heater plus the cost of fittings and drain pan, and operating costs are very low because the tank mainly serves to keep its water hot, not actually to heat up cold water.
By the way, I put a cut-off valve on the incoming and outgoing lines to the heater, and a shunt line with another valve between them so that it can be cut off completely if desired or if necessary for service or replacement.
—Andrew Wilford, Dobbs Ferry, NY
Condescending contractors don’t pick just on women
Ottilie Ruh’s commentary about the condescending treatment she received when trying to find people to help her build a lap pool (FHB #131, pp. 16, 18, 20) seems to parallel my experience when I have tried to do something out of the ordinary, but I am a 40-year-old man. I don’t think her being female has anything to do with the way she was treated.
On one hand, it is unreasonable to expect every contractor you come in contact with to be proficient and have experience with every conceivable building technique available. Experimenting with unproven techniques can be costly and time consuming. In her defense, it does seem that too many contractors are stuck in their ways and are unwilling to innovate, refine and expand their capabilities. The solution? Ask them if they subscribe to Fine Homebuilding. I have found that if they do, they are likely to be aware of interesting materials and techniques. If they say, “Fine what?”, then you are likely to be dealing with a good old boy who may be competent and honest but who isn’t exactly “cutting edge.”
—Park L. Firebaugh, via e-mail
Sorry, but we reversed the labels
In Scott Gibson’s article “Choosing Materials for Exterior Decks” (FHB #132, pp. 64-71), we accidentally reversed the captions for the two types of vinyl decking featured in the photographs. On page 65 and again on page 71, Brock Deck is mistakenly referred to as Dream Deck and vice versa. We apologize for the error.