Reader Feedback: Issue 128, December 1999/January 2000
The neutral and ground wires are not the same
After all Mr. Cauldwell’s elaborations about electricity in the article “Wiring Stoves and Dryers” (FHB #125, pp. 110-113), we are left with the impression that there is a difference between an “insulated neutral” and a “bare ground.” There isn’t. You will notice that both are connected to the same point within the service panel. To complete an electrical circuit, you need exactly two wires, the power in (hot/black) and the power out (neutral/white). The reason for the ground is to ensure that, in the unlikely event of both a break in the continuity of the white wire and a leak from the hot wire, you cannot get a shock from metal parts of an appliance. In other words, redundancy.
So Mr. Cauldwell’s statement that “millions of appliances have been made with the frame as the hot return in the circuit” is meaningless. The frame is always at ground potential, whether wired with three or four wires. Going according to code is one thing, but to say that existing appliances are “improperly wired” because of updated code is a scare tactic that is unworthy of your magazine.
—Chandru Murthi, Eugene, OR
Rex Cauldwell replies: The neutral and ground are not the same! This is a common misconception, and I addressed it in the article, but apparently not well enough.
I’m glad you wrote, though, because it gives me one last chance to save your life. The neutral and ground are only—I repeat only—the same from the service panel back to the utility transformer. From the service panel on into the house, they are two different conductors. They even have two different names. One is the grounded conductor (the neutral), and the other is the grounding electrode conductor. Common sense says that if both conductors were the same, we wouldn’t need two.
Please listen, your life depends on this. If you put yourself in series with the ground loop, nothing should happen. If everything is wired right, there should be no current on the ground wire. If you put yourself in series with the neutral, you will be electrocuted. These are not the same wires! The change in the code was demanded by the electricians who understand this difference. Any appliance that has its frame attached to the neutral is a potential hazard. If the neutral opens and the appliance frame is wired to the neutral, you will complete the circuit by touching any grounded metal in the house such as a metal water line. In other words, you will be electrocuted. Now let me be blunt to save a few lives here: For all those who did not understand the above, please leave electricity alone.
More tips on weatherstripping
I enjoyed reading the article by Chris Norris on interlocking metal weatherstripping for doors (FHB #126, pp. 80-83). I have been using this method of weatherstripping for a number of years, and it has always impressed my clients.
I include some details not mentioned in the article that may be of interest to Mr. Norris and your readers. I always apply caulking between the bottom hook strip and the wood sill. The caulk creates a better seal and acts as an adhesive to secure the hook better.
As far as fine-tuning the saddle to the hook strip, Accurate Metal Weatherstripping (914-668-6043) sells a felt stripping called Rubberoid to shim up the saddle. This material also allows the saddle to be lowered by removing a layer of felt at a later date should the door fall slightly over time.
If the door I am installing is exposed to the rain and wind, as when there is no storm door, I place under the saddle a piece of self-adhering bituminous rubber or make a pan to fit under the saddle. The saddle should be drilled with weep holes to let water run through the saddle onto the barrier and out the front of the saddle through weep holes in the leading edge of the saddle. Caulking should go under the T of the saddle and under the exterior edge of the pan to keep water from flowing back.
The thing I found that you missed is at the lock. On 13⁄4-in. doors, I never skip the lock. I install my locks favoring the interior of the door. This can be easily done by placing a shim of 3⁄16-in. plywood between the lock jig and the interior face of the door; this will put the bolt 3⁄32 in. toward the inside, giving the room to run the metal weatherstripping continuously past the lock. If the lock is already set, you can install a special section of interlocking Lock Strip (also made by Accurate), which has the same profile but less depth to make up the difference.
As a final tuning, I use paraffin wax to lubricate the metal to produce a silent fit when the door is closed; just avoid getting the wax on the wood because it will hinder the paint job.
—Keith J. Mazzarello, Flushing, NY
Keep the mortar-bed thickness consistent, if possible
With regard to the “Q&A” item on wheelchair-accessible shower pans (FHB #125, pp. 20, 22), I found Tom Meehan’s design solution to be very good. But like all things that go through a critique, if you look hard enough, you might find something. In this case, it’s the dramatic change in the mortar-bed thickness where pan and slope meet. There is also a sharp edge in the sub-floor at the same intersection. This is inviting a crack at that point, which can radiate up through the tile. If possible, I would suggest sloping the subfloor in the room to maintain a uniform 3-in. mortar bed.
—Ronald V. Armes, West Covina, CA
Extend membrane throughout the bathroom
I’d like to offer a comment on the answer given to a question regarding wheelchair-accessible shower pans (FHB #125, pp. 20, 22). In the section drawing, the waterproof membrane is shown to extend only 2 ft. away from the shower-pan area. This is a big mistake. All the other details are correct, but the membrane must extend to the farthest reaches of the mortar float and should run up the wall 6 in. in all areas.
Another key point is to hold the drywall up off the membrane, preferably no lower than the top of the tile at the floor line. What happens is the water or moisture will travel throughout this mortar bed via capillary action. If the drywall is down in this area, it will act as a wick and suck the moisture up into the lower part of the wall, thus destroying the drywall.
If the membrane isn’t run under the entire mortar bed, you will be subjected to severe rot where the membrane is missing. We have always hot-mopped the entire floor in these types of bathrooms. We corrected our technique with the wallboard after two failures. It was interesting to note that when we experienced the drywall failures, they were in all areas, not just within 2 ft. of the pan area. This was proof enough about the capillary action of water.
—Tim Murray, Campbell, CA
The public prefers glitz over quality
In FHB #125 (“Letters,” p. 8), Don P. Bolam complained about the “quality of building” and wrote: “I have spent 30 years in the business, much of it correcting the shoddy workmanship of others” and alluded to the fact that he lives in central Florida. I’m from Chicago, lived in Michigan for 13 years and in Naples, Florida, since 1991. I’ve also spent over 30 years in the building and remodeling industry, much of that time doing repairs as well. Unlike Mr. Bolam, I’m not so inclined to chastise our industry. As with other industries, incompetents and princes abound.
However, the general public has decided that glitz—whether in clothing, cars, restaurants or houses—has priority over quality. Oh, people talk about wanting first-rate workmanship, but glitz and square footage still take the prize.
Since moving to Naples, I’ve occasionally been asked to build a house. One person asked why my price was about 8% higher than another bid. I was not about to take several months to teach them Construction 101, 102, 103, etc. Just explaining the difference between sealants, their proper application and the fact that they don’t get applied over dirt or dust would be an evening. Another evening about paint. Another about the importance of proper curing of concrete and stucco. Another about foundation waterproofing and proper soil grading away from the building.
I stick to remodeling and repairs. What’s amazing is that the public will pay $85,000 to remodel a master bath, but not an extra $24,000 on a $300,000 house for a first-rate building. Still, they call me a few years later to fix the leaky roof, change rotted wood and replace rusted doors, all the time complaining about the original builder, whom they probably beat to death on price to begin with.
—Sonny Lykos, Naples, FL
Safety couplings prevent hose whip
With regard to Tom Phillips’ letter about quick-connect hose couplings being dangerous (FHB #126, pp. 8, 10), the phenomenon he describes is called “hose whip” and, as the letter says, can be bad. But there are a couple of things you can do to avoid the problem. One is to use either a safety bleeder plug or an air-flow sensor, both of which bleed air slowly to stop hose whip. The other thing you can do is use quick-connect hose couplings that have a locking feature, which prevents accidental disconnect. Typically, these safety couplings simply require you to rotate the sleeve after you make the connection.
A couple of companies that have these products are Foster Manufacturing Company (2324 W. Battlefield Road, Springfield, MO 65807; 417-881-6600) and Tuthill Corporation (Hansen Coupling Div., 1000 W. Bagley Road, Berea OH 44017; 440-826-1115).
Spend a few more dollars for safety.
—Glenn Horr, via e-mail
Quit showing off and leave a decent gap around doors
I have a gripe that’s been bugging me for years that perhaps your readers can relate to. Why is it that manufacturers of exterior-door units, prefit interior doors and carpenters in general all cut the doors too tight? Here in southern California, I can make a living refitting even new doors, be they 6-ft. 8-in. prehung slab doors or a house full of French door pairs prefit with Jado three-point latch systems in a $5 million home.
On one recent job, the finish carpenter’s work quality made me feel amateurish—crown molding, colonial base, the joints were so tight you couldn’t tell if they were coped or mitered. But I also noticed the gap between doors and jambs, although perfectly even, was less than 1⁄16 in. While discussing this topic at lunch, he mentioned the need to close up the house to control humidity, heat, etc.
I get the feeling carpenters are showing off their talents by cutting the door as close to the jamb as possible without touching it. To me, the most important goal when hanging a door is that it functions. With a 3⁄32-in. gap (or a hair under 1⁄8 in.), it won’t matter how humid, how many coats of paint, the door will work. Even if the doors are to be stained, I say give ’em some room.
—John Gleason, Camarillo, CA
Don’t use olive oil on concrete counters
Your article on concrete countertops (FHB #125, pp. 62-69) was a day late. I had just finished a kitchen remodel and used Corian for the countertops. Maybe next time.
I beg to differ, though, on “the final patina” mentioned at the end of the article. Using olive oil as a final coat is not a good or safe idea.
One of the photo captions mentioned using vegetable oil “too far gone for cooking” as a form-release agent. Well, so will olive oil—go too far, that is. It will go bad as organic products tend to do. Mineral oil would be an effective alternative.
I’ve made wooden cutting boards for friends and clients, and I always use and recommend mineral oil to season the surface safely. Plus, there’s no residual taste to food prepared on the surface.
—Brad Hanks, Jackson Hole, WY
Cleaning bricks revisited
I’d like to comment on the “Q&A” item about removing hardened mortar from brick (FHB #122, p. 20). Most brick manufacturers, including Glen-Gery for whom I work, state that muriatic acid should not be used to clean bricks manufactured by them. Why?
1. Muriatic acid will quickly damage the mortar in the joints, removing the hard dense surface created by tooling the joints. This lets in water and provides more places for dirt to collect.
2. Colored mortars are often bleached by muriatic acid.
3. The chemicals contained within certain bricks will be changed by the muriatic acid. These chemicals then become very soluble in water and may cause permanent staining of the masonry.
4. Muriatic acid is a byproduct of the steel industry and contains metallic contaminants. These metals, usually iron, can stain the masonry.
5. Muriatic acid is rather volatile and often dries on the wall. This dried acid can cause permanent staining and continuing damage to the masonry.
Glen-Gery recommends the use of proprietary cleaners such as ProSoCo SureKlean #600 or SureKlean Vana Trol or Dietrich #202 or #202V. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any of these products.
Further, do not use metal tools to clean masonry. Chisels, scrapers and wire brushes can damage all bricks and will permanently damage coated bricks. Also, as the tools wear, they often leave bits of metal in the wall, which can rust and stain the masonry. Use wooden scrapers or broken bricks to help remove mortar smears and snots.
Finally, most brick manufacturers will advise that there is no reason to use sealers (water-repellent chemicals) unless the wall is leaking and other ways to correct the problem, principally installing flashings, have failed. If the situation indicates that a water-repellent chemical should be considered, then you should consider only chemicals of the class siloxane. Both ProSoCo and Hydrozo distribute siloxane-based water-repellent chemicals.
—Ronald J. Hunsicker, Wyomissing, PA
Erratum: Combustion appliances require two sources of combustion air
Ironically, we made a mistake in a drawing for Redwood Kardon’s article “Ten Common Plumbing Mistakes” (FHB #126, pp. 70-73). The bottom drawing on p. 73 should have included an upper combustion-air source in addition to the lower combustion-air supply shown. According to code, the upper combustion-air source must be located within the top 12 in. of the room, ducted to the outside and protected by an insect-screen cover.