Reader Feedback: Issue 134, October/November 2000
Opinions differ on tropical imports
As an importer of tropical hardwoods, I read with interest the article on decking materials in your June/July issue (FHB #132, pp. 64-71). Three things come to mind. First, the writer was practically wild-eyed in his deference to the patrons of rain-forest protection. Second, no mention was made of Spanish cedar, an excellent decking material. Third, tropical American hardwoods are most commonly sold under National Hardwood Lumber Association grading rules just like domestic hardwoods. If the person selling you the decking material won’t come clean about the grade of the lumber, he probably has some Nevada oceanfront for you as well.
As for the state of the rain forest and its “protectors,” I refer you to an article by Barry Wigmore that recently appeared in the New York Post. He quotes two leading eco-scientists, Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, and Philip Stott, a London University professor and editor of the Journal of Biogeography, to devastating effect. Early in the article, their premise is clear. The save-the-rain-forest movement is based on bad science and is flatly wrong: “at best vastly misleading; at worst a gigantic con.” I can only imagine the reaction if you reprinted the article in full. It flies in the face of everything we’ve been fed for the past 20 years.
Regarding the certifiers of sustained-management practices: Under whose authority do they operate? Who certifies the certifiers? The reference to “an acre of forest cut to produce 10 bd. ft. of clear decking lumber” may be the most utterly absurd remark I have ever run across. Any objective view must acknowledge the fact that all such self-proclaimed advocates have a vested interest in promoting environmental hysteria. A healthy dose of skepticism, which is entirely missing from your article, is in order.
About Spanish cedar, it is hard to say enough good things about it. Cedro, as it is known in the trade, is on a par with old redwood in terms of hardness and resistance to decay and infestation.
At my yard, we pull a custom grade on request that will yield totally sound lumber in a given length, but that will contain the occasional blemish or character mark, for around $2.50 per bd. ft. Considering the beauty and durability of the wood, most people think it’s a great bargain—a much better bargain, in fact, than any wood mentioned in your article.
—L. W. Price III, president, South American Lumber Imports, Evergreen, AL
Editor’s note: Barry Wigmore’s article “Eco-Scientists Deny Amazon’s in Danger” can be found on the New York Post’s Web site at www.nypost.com.
Avoid uncertified tropical woods
Thank you for at least mentioning the problems associated with the use of tropical hardwoods in your decking article (“Choosing Materials for Exterior Decks,” FHB #132, pp. 64-71). However, I was dismayed to see so many industry spokespeople quoted regarding both tropical woods and chromated copper arsenate (CCA). Over and over, those making lots of money from the sales of tropical woods (and pressure-treated woods, in this case) are presented as having good information. As an independent organization (a nonprofit with no ties to either sales or promotion of wood, plastic or any decking product), Rainforest Relief has taken a stand arrived at without bias or conflict of interest. Those seeking to build a deck should consider the following:
1. Recycled plastic lumber creates demand for our recyclables, thus creating six jobs in recycling and transport for every one job in manufacturing the material; reduces landfilling and incineration (which, in the case of plastic, can create dangerous dioxins and furans); nearly eliminates the expense and work of yearly maintenance (which, in the case of wood, includes regular applications of chemical agents that are themselves toxic); and lasts far longer than even tropical woods, thus reducing the costs of reconstruction and eliminating further intrusions into old-growth rain forests or domestic forests.
2. Your article mentions only composites and vinyl. Virgin PVC is an environmental nightmare, including initial oil drilling and toxic wastes associated with production. In-stead, all-recycled-plastic decking, such as Polywood (800-915-0043), CareFree (US Plastic Lumber; 800-653-2784; www.carefree-products.com), Ecoboard (American Ecoboard; 800-567-9851; www.ecoboard.cc) and Forever Deck (Phoenix; 215-653-0300; www.plasticlumberyard.com), use no virgin plastic and outlast composites.
3. Dealers selling only certified wood have been battling against the loss of the forests right alongside environmentalists for years. Sylvania Certified principal Robert Simeone was one of the original innovators of certification of forest products. Also, Ecotimber (www.ecotimber.com) was the first all-certified wholesaler and is the largest supplier of ecological timber products (888-801-0855).
4. CCA is a highly toxic substance. There is no known minimum “safe” level for arsenic exposure. Associations of wood treaters are responsible for maintaining profitability of their members, that is, the wood treaters. They spend much of their members’ dues lobbying against regulation that would increase production costs. I would not turn to them for information on the toxicity of these substances. Potential buyers should ask for the data and warning information that is by law supposed to be made available wherever CCA is sold.
Homeowners, contractors and suppliers can contact Rainforest Relief for accurate and independent information about tropical hardwoods and certified and recycled plastic lumber (718-398-3760; [email protected]).
—Tim Keating, director, Rainforest Relief
Stair manufacturer says his product is for industrial uses only
FHB’s August/September issue contained an informative “Q&A” item on how to build an alternating-tread stair (FHB #133, pp. 22, 24). However, the author mistakenly directed readers to contact Lapeyre Stair Inc. if they want to buy such a stair. Your readers should know that Lapeyre Stair makes an alternating-tread stair for industrial uses only and will not knowingly supply a stair for residential applications.
—Warren P. Hudson, president, Lapeyre Stair Inc., New Orleans, LA
“This Old House” producer responds to criticism
In his recent letter to you (FHB #133, pp. 8, 10), Charles Hall asserts that This Old House showed “installation error” in our televised piece about Authentic Roof shingles. Our roofer’s use of pneumatic nailers, he writes, was wrong and “apparently neither Steve, Norm, Tom or Dick thought to read the directions and to insist on proper installation for the shingles.”
Nonsense. To set the writer and the record straight, here are the facts: On the day we shot our scene, the shingles’ inventor, company president and CEO James Crowe, was with us on site. Pneumatic nailing was accepted according to the application specs he was using at the time, though he recommended against it during cold weather. Because it was the middle of the summer, our roofer’s use of nail guns was therefore legitimate.
Since then, however, Crowe’s thinking has changed, as he recently explained to us. “In general,” he says, “we’ve found that nail guns are seldom used properly where our product is concerned, and we now recommend against their use. It’s our opinion that they should be used only by highly skilled individuals for certain applications; roofing is not one of them.”
I hope this clears up any misunderstanding concerning the show’s approach to directions-reading and proper installation.
—Bruce Irving, producer, “This Old House”
Europeans have used tile roofs in snow country for years
Forgive me for being behind in my reading, but I’d like to comment on Henrik Bull’s article “Designing Roofs for Snow Country” (FHB #124, pp. 96-101). I found the article to be excellent and agree with Mr. Bull’s concepts of holding snow on the roof with lower slopes, snow brackets and snow fences. The need for engineered snow brackets and snow fences is important. However, I disagree with his comment that clay tile and concrete tile are not suitable for severe-weather conditions.
As a roofing consultant who has researched roofs in snow areas of Europe and Asia, I have found that the most common roofs in heavy-snow areas are concrete tile and clay tile. They have worked well in Europe and Asia for centuries. Failures in the United States and Canada have been due to improper design and installation.
In conjunction with the National Tile Roof Manufacturer’s Association (888-321-9236; www.ntrma.org) and the Western States Roofing Contractor Association (650-548-0112; www.wsrca.com), I helped to write a manual on the application of tile roofs in heavy-snow areas. It is a must-read manual for anyone doing a roof in heavy-snow areas because the concepts in the manual will hold true for any roofing product. The manual was reviewed by experts in snow climates worldwide. It explains ice dams, vapor concerns, and cold-roof and superinsulated-roof systems. Called “Concrete and Clay Tile Roof Design Criteria Manual, For Cold and Snow Regions,” it costs $35 and is available from the National Tile Roof Manufacturer’s Association.
—Terry Anderson, Anderson Associates Consulting Inc., Pleasant Grove, UT
A plea for safe storage of guns
As a firearms enthusiast and instructor, I cannot for any reason approve of a firearm being stored in a floor-level kitchen drawer, locked or not, as shown in the photo on p. 126 of your August/ September issue (FHB #133, “Tools & Materials”). There are far too many kids who easily find guns hidden by their parents and use them either to shoot themselves or their friends accidentally. The concealed drawer depicted is a good idea—except for storing a gun. Having this drawer at baby level only adds to the risk. All it takes is just one time leaving the drawer unlocked, and a tragedy may occur. There are much more appropriate small-pistol vaults available that are designed and designated for the direct purpose of securing home-defense weapons.
—Charlie Decker, via e-mail
Fake can be fine
It is really sad that Pat McGraw will be missing your great publications (FHB #133, “Letters,” p. 6). He says “fake is fake is fake,” but sometimes fake is faux. Some of the finest homes in America have employed faux (fake) stone, marble and wood finishes for many years. It isn’t always practical or economical to use natural products. In our industry, skyrocketing prices for labor and materials have made alternative products attractive. In some instances, the new “fake” products are superior to their natural cousins, if installed properly. They are more cost effective, more durable, environmentally friendly and less dependent on maintenance by the end user.
Competent professionals have an obligation to discuss all products, including alternatives, with their clients. In some cases, the choice to use a less costly “fake” product may allow a different, more expensive choice on another more important surface.
—Daniel J. Snell, Roseville, CA
Questions barrel-vault roof
Regarding the article “The Infill Villa” (FHB #131, pp. 96-99), I have a concern with the diagram for framing the barrel-vault roof. It seems that many deconstructivist and modernist architects, being primarily concerned with the avant garde and searching for inspiration within themselves as “artists,” have problems with reality—that gravity is down.
In the diagram, the joists tilt out of plumb along with the curve of the roof. The problem is that as the joist is turned this way, the neutral axis is still level, and the result is a dramatic reduction in the section modulus/moment of inertia of the member, which reduces the allowable span due to both bending and deflection. Think of building a floor with 2xs all flat, a pretty bouncy proposition. I think this detail may also introduce some additional problems with longitudinal torsional buckling, though I’m not an engineer, so this should be checked out.
—Kirk Watson, via e-mail
David A. Wilson, P. E., who engineered the roof in question, replies: You are correct that the roof rafters may not be adequate to carry the vertical loads by themselves as the angle that they are out of plumb increases. Fortunately, the rafters are not alone. The plywood sheathing shares the loads with the rafters as the roof slope increases.
The design of the roof rafters hung perpendicular to the circumference of the glulam beam has many precedents. This practice allows the diaphragm to be easily nailed flush to the top of the rafters.
In my opinion, the reason this method of construction is appropriate is that the gravity and live-load forces are transferred to the roof diaphragm as the loads move away from the high point of the curved surface. The forces exerted on the roof will be resolved into perpendicular and parallel forces, which will be directly proportional to the angle of the roof at the rafter in question. As the angle becomes more steep, the force that the rafter will see (perpendicular to the roof diaphragm) becomes less, and the force that the roof diaphragm will see increases. For example, at an angle of 45°, the rafter and the roof diaphragm will share the forces equally. As the plywood diaphragm is nailed to the framing members continuously along the supported edges, the capacity is governed by the nail spacing and, under the minimum requirements of the building code, is more than adequate for the design forces.