Reader Feedback: Issue 153, February/March 2003
Don’t mislead with costs or become another handyman magazine
As a charter subscriber and a professional builder, I find more and more articles that I believe to be misleading. The $1,796 kitchen remodel in your latest Kitchens & Baths put me over the edge (FHB #151, “Ultimate Cheapskate Kitchen,” pp. 58-61).
The problem I have with this article is that for the novice homeowner who happens to read this, and for the contractor he contacts for a remodel, the difference in cost will be staggering. I’m not doubting Scott Gibson’s ability, but in a magazine such as this, he should in fact make note that labor is not an issue, and material mark-up is also not included. Those of us in the trade have to justify every penny spent to our customers, and this kind of article just furthers the overall distrust the trades receive from the general public.
If Fine Homebuilding wants to appeal to professional builders and remodelers, it should respect that we, too, are business owners, just as the magazine’s owners are. You work to make a living; you can’t do it for free. Perhaps I am wrong in the assumption that Fine Homebuilding wants or needs professionals on their subscriber lists. If that’s the case, so be it. But I would hate to see this publication become another handyman-type magazine
—Tod A. Olson Wagner, Jacksonville, IL
Kevin Ireton, editor-in-chief, replies: I thought that Scott made it pretty clear in his article that he and his wife, Susan, did all the work themselves on their kitchen remodel. But if there’s any doubt, you are absolutely right, the $1,796 price includes no labor costs or mark-up. That total is simply the sum of all the retail prices that Scott and Susan paid for fixtures, materials and appliances in their kitchen.
As to whether Fine Homebuilding is for professional builders or home handymen, I think it’s fair to say both, and then some. Fine Homebuilding is for anybody who cares about doing good work or hiring someone to do it for them.
I’m writing in regard to Clayton DeKorne’s article “Crown-Molding Fundamentals” (FHB #152, pp. 58-63). I have been finishing very large homes with miles of crown molding, and I actually prefer to double-cope the last piece, rather than use Clayton’s method. Even if the material is paint grade, I still want a nice tight cope, and the best way to achieve that is to cut pieces long and spring them into place. Also, I usually cope with a jigsaw, especially when I get into really decorative crown (or baseboard).
When I’m splicing two lengths of crown together, I use a Kreg pocket-screw jig. I have never had a seam come apart with this method. I didn’t write in to bash Clayton; I thought that your readers would like to know about other opinions and methods.
—Nathan Altheimer, Fredonia, WI
Vibration can be a problem with front-loading washers
My short-lived experience with a front-loading washing machine produced most of the same glowing results that were reported by Beth Coleman (FHB #151, “Feedback,” p. 118). But readers should understand that these machines are not suitable for all situations.
In the course of remodeling my 150-year-old farmhouse, I decided to move the laundry center to a second-floor bathroom. Even with the solid framing in the house and the new subfloor I was installing, I worried about how much vibration the washer would produce. A little bit of research convinced me that a front-loader would be the best choice (“You won’t even know it’s running” was typical of the feedback I received). But the first time my new Sears Kenmore washer hit the spin cycle, I thought we were being hit with an earthquake. The entire house shook so badly that I worried walls would start falling.
Returning to my research, this time with a more open mind, I discovered that my owner’s manual explicitly recommended that the washer be operated only on a concrete floor. Several appliance manufacturers confirmed via email that front-loaders produced more vibration than top-loaders. And the repairman that Sears sent to look at my machine assured me that I was not the first person to face such a problem.
Front-loaders spin much faster than top-loaders, which is why the clothes require less time in the dryer. They also spin on a different axis (vertical, rather than horizontal). In some cases, these two effects can generate an unacceptable amount of vibration in the floor. I would highly recommend that anyone shopping for a new washer consider the long-term benefits of a front-loader, but that they make sure that if they run into the same problem I did, they can exchange it for a conventional top-loader. That’s what I did, and my vibration problems disappeared.
—Jeff Beneke, Trumansburg, NY
Simpler methods for octagons
I’m writing to offer a fast, accurate way to calculate octagons (FHB #152, “Laying out Octagons,” pp. 92-93). It works for any size: 1 in. to 100 ft. and more. All you need to do is divide the total width of the octagon by 2.414, and you then have the exact length of all eight sides to reach a specific width. For the example in your article, take 38 in. and divide by 2.414 to get 153⁄4 in. This is long point to long point for each of the sides, and when assembled, you will have an octagon exactly 38 in. wide. With today’s calculators, this method is fast because you don’t need to convert numbers. I have been using this formula for more than 20 years to check and build anything octagonal.
—Glenn Shaffstall, Owings, MD
I enjoyed John Carroll’s article “Laying out Octagons” (FHB #152, pp. 92-93), but I use a different method, which I learned as an apprentice. Euclid probably developed it.
You do not need a framing square or any tables. As you will see, it works on any size octagon. You actually do not even need to know the dimensions of the square, though you do need the square itself. Draw in the diagonals of the square to find the center (drawing above right). With a compass or a pair of dividers, take the distance from a corner to the center (one-half of the diagonal), and lay out this distance on each leg of the square from each corner. Then connect these marks.
—Arthur Chenoweth, Hood River, OR
Don’t compromise the roof system
I just read “Removing a Bearing Wall” (FHB #152, pp. 80-85). To my astonishment, the author left out a critical detail. Because the ceiling joists are components in the roof system, care must be taken when cutting them. The joists not only support ceiling and attic loads but, more important, also form a truss system with the roof rafters, keeping the roof from “squatting” and exterior walls from bowing outward. When compromising these members, you must be careful.
First, you have to provide temporary support during construction. I recommend 1⁄2-in. threaded rod spanned from both top sill plates and through-bolted with a big washer. I place these rods every 4 ft. o. c. The objective here is to transfer the tensional forces from the ceiling joists to the rod. Once the temps are in place, the joists may be cut.
With the beam in place, you should reconnect the cut ends of the joists with minimum 24-ga. sheet-metal straps. I recommend the straps lap a full 24 in. on each side of the beam and be fastened with 8d nails every 4 in. I do not use truss nails because they tend to split the 2x joists.
Finally, all temps may be removed; however, if there is little interference with attic space, they can be left in place.
—Keith Metler, Highland Park, IL
John Michael Davis replies: I wish I could say that I had considered this issue and concluded that it didn’t matter. But I never even thought about it, and that upsets me. I hate overlooking an angle. I don’t think lateral spreading was a concern on this project for a variety of reasons. But because this article was a general how-to, we certainly should have addressed the issue. In addition to your suggestions for providing temporary lateral support, it seems as if you also could go outside and brace each wall at midspan from the top-plate area to the ground and a stake. This, or a variation, would not intrude into the attic work area. Thanks for your letter.
Credit where it’s due
My article “A Hard-Working, Compact Kitchen” in the December/January issue looks terrific (FHB #152, pp. 72-75), but somewhere in editing, the builder’s name was dropped. I want your readers to know that Chuck Green of Four Corners Construction in Ashland, Mass., was the general contractor for this project, which also included the simultaneous remodeling of two bathrooms and the master bedroom upstairs. Thanks to Chuck and his crew, the whole project was built to the same high standards shown in the kitchen article.
—Frank W. Riepe, Sudbury, MA
Some opposing views on universal design
Mary Jo Peterson’s essay on universal design (FHB #151, pp. 6, 8) misses the mark, and not by a little bit, either. Building homes should be about developing the best possible space for the occupants, not neutralizing and standardizing for a hypothetical visitor or future owner. One of the joys of owning a home is that it’s yours. If I want sliding shower doors because they’re easier to clean, that is my right. If I like my front door several steps up from street level so that passersby can’t look into my windows, that’s my choice, too. In our home, we live with a small bathroom and a narrow doorway because it’s a trade-off for having more space in other places. Building codes exist to ensure safety and quality construction, not to push the great American dream of homeownership to some lowest common denominator.
Imagine if your F-150 pickup truck were required to carry child-safety seats just in case some future owner has children. How useful would that same truck be if it were limited to moving 25 miles per hour because some drivers’ reactions are slower than others? While I am not suggesting that all the ideas embraced by universal design are bad, I absolutely bristle at the idea that we should standardize homes, particularly through building codes, in an effort to appease someone other than their owners.
—Doug Smith, via email
I was pleased to see the essay “Universal design: why ever not?” in the Kitchens & Baths issue (FHB #151, pp. 6, 8). Mary Jo Peterson presents a great common-sense view of an important design issue that will eventually affect every one of us.
As a volunteer installer of safety rails, grab bars and other aids for folks with special needs, I’ve witnessed some sad scenarios. One family actually forced their teenage son to drop out of his wheelchair so that they could drag him into the bathroom. They didn’t want to hurt the resale value of their home by making it accessible.
Granted, that’s a crazy viewpoint, but it absolutely reflects the attitudes of lots of people. The case I witnessed is not an isolated instance. The real issue is keeping people safe and independent in their homes as long as possible. That’s just good common sense, and it’s a much better use of society’s resources.
I applaud the NAHB Remodeling Council for their CAPS (certified aging in place specialist) training. It’s much needed.
—Joe Copeland, via e-mail
In the “Finishing Touches” department of Kitchens & Baths (FHB #151, pp. 102-103), we incorrectly credited Patricia Motzkin for a kitchen that was designed by Ned Forrest. And on p. 88 of our December/January issue (FHB # 152), the drawing credit should have gone to Ron Carboni, not to Paul Perreault. Sorry about that.