Podcast 229: Garage Slabs, Carpentry Apprentices, and Water-Stained Hardwood Floors
One of our favorite podcast-crew alumni joins us to discuss the best way to build a garage floor, whether a builder should hire a laborer or an apprentice, and how to make a worn out wood floor look beautiful again.
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Patrick and Rob welcome former FHB editor Brian Pontolilo back to the studio to talk about the prolific and possibly misguided historic preservation efforts in his new home of Charleston, South Carolina, and his new job of managing our sister website, GreenBuildingAdvisor.com. The crew then dives into listener questions about the smartest way to put a new concrete floor in a gravel-floored garage, the appropriate type of new employee for a small construction company, and the most effective way to refinish water-stained wood floors.
Brian’s ability to say “y’all,” rental lifestyle, and GBA.com
Listener feedback #1
Randy from Lubbock, Texas writes, In episode 224, we asked for feedback from listeners on replacing anode in tank-style water heaters. We heard from several listeners on the subject, including Randy:
I have a mid-priced natural gas-fired 40-gallon water heater, about 5 years old.
I drain and flush it once a year (I have a reminder on my Outlook calendar). There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube. The only thing I would add is that the first time I did the annual drain routine, I replaced the plastic drain valve with a brass ball valve (from Amazon).
I’ve replaced the anode rod on this water heater once so far, at about 3 years of age. It was eaten up pretty badly, but probably could have gone another year or two.
The rod that is installed at the factory was rigid and about four feet long. Of course, there wasn’t enough clearance above the heater to remove it. The rod is made from a soft metal–magnesium or aluminum, I believe. I raised it about a foot at a time, and each time, I used a reciprocating saw with a hacksaw-type blade to cut about 3/4 through the rod, enough to allow it to bend out of the way but still remain in one piece.
Now, this is important: each time you raise and cut it, you need to keep the cut segments above from accidentally dropping back in and potentially damaging the tank lining. Before making each cut, I clamped some Vise Grips around the rod right where it emerges from the top of the tank.
I replaced the solid rod with a segmented one (from Amazon). The segments are joined by a thick but flexible cable, so it’s easy to insert and remove.
Finally, if you’re going to do this procedure, it should be done no less often than every 3 – 4 years. If you go longer than that, the large hex head bolt may be impossible to remove. I use an impact wrench to loosen it. Using a large pipe wrench or a socket with a breaker bar probably won’t work because the torque you’re applying two or three feet from the bolt will tend to rock the whole water heater away from the vertical, which doesn’t seem like a good idea.
I can understand why almost no one does this, and given that very few people do, I wonder how much good it really does in practical terms. I guess I’ll find out in a few years.
Listener feedback #2
James writes, I’ve done the anodes before. I get then from supplyhouse.com. Obviously, they need to be short enough to fit between the tank and ceiling above to get them in unless you want to drain the water heater all the way, unhook it etc. An impact wrench works great to remove and reinstall them. As to it being worthwhile I guess it depends if you aren’t planning to upgrade anytime soon. I just switched to the Rheem heat pump unit. The old 1991 Rheem gas water heater is still good to go though.
Listener feedback #3
Allen writes, I would like to hear an update on Rob’s Sense Power Monitor. Now that he’s had it for a while longer maybe he could give more insight into the actual value it provides. I was thinking about buying one and would like to know if it has a real value beyond the cool nerdiness of knowing where all of your electrons are going.
Question 1: Should I hire a laborer or an apprentice for my small shop?
Ben from Michigan writes, Hello FHB podcast crew, It was great talking to you guys at the Keep Craft Alive fundraising event at the Builders’ Show IBS 2020 in Las Vegas. I was inspired and humbled by all the terrific builders who attended.
In our small shop we are trying to determine if we should hire a laborer or an apprentice. I know in a union setting these job titles have specific meanings and are treated differently. In your experience, how would you define each role, and how would you approach their training? Would their tool kits differ?
Thanks for all that you’re doing to generate career interest in the building trades.
Question 2: How can I remove water stains when refinishing old hardwood floors?
Adam from Chittenango, NY writes, Hello FHB podcast crew, My wife and I recently purchased a 1600 square foot cape house. There are water stains on the floor that we think came from a hydronic heating system leak.
Is there any way to remove the worst of the staining from the wood without replacing the boards? I realize that some traces of staining would still be present, I am more looking for a method of reducing the degree of staining. I’ve heard you discuss repairing hardwood floors by moving boards from closets into more visible areas. I have limited small closets and half of them have the flooring running the wrong orientation to remove flooring entirely inside the closet.
On a related note, what is the best method of refinishing part of a hardwood floor? 90% of the first floor is continuous hardwood and since it’s a cape, it’s the majority of our living space. That combined with the fact we have a 2-year-old, refinishing the entire first floor at once isn’t possible.
PS: Yes, I have a technical degree, but it isn’t in engineering.
Advise from Rudy Kelosky of Wood Floor Designs (Koppel PA)
The staining looks to be light except in the cracks where water may have mixed with under the floor contaminants such as coal dust from an old heating system. I believe sanding the floor will remove the water stain. Then apply another wood stain to camouflage any remaining discoloration. After sanding and staining the floor, seal the floor with an oil-based sealer not water based, because it was water that created the issue. Then apply two top coats of oil or water based polyurethane compatible with the seal coat. All the products should be from the same manufacture. (see FHB YouTube video “Why I Build” Brent Kelosky for more info)
It is difficult to finish part of a floor. However, a professional floor finisher will be able to guide you in the best way to divide the project into sections for best results. What makes blending a spot in the middle of a floor without sanding the surrounding area difficult is the unknowns like old finish used, stain color used, Wax on floor, etc. If you what to attempt it you need to sand the damaged area wall to wall with the length of the wood. You can stop on a long board running wall to wall not in the middle of a board.
In other words your boards are 2-1/4” wide by 3‘ to 5’ long and you will have maybe 5 or 10 boards long in one run to the wall. You can split the room in half and sand with the length of the boards stopping at the seam where the next 2-1/4 wide board starts. Now trying to blend the new finish and color into the existing old floor is still difficult. However you can do the 2nd half of the floor after the 1st half dries which will then blend new to new. Only do this if you have no other options to clear out the room or make your room breaks at doorways.
Question 3: What’s the smartest way to add a solid floor to an existing garage with a gravel floor?
Kevin from Flagstaff, AZ writes, Hi FHB crew, I am a relatively new first-time homeowner of a house that needs a lot of love.
I have lots of questions for you all, but the most pressing one relates to the floor of my garage. It is a detached garage about 24’x30′, located in the high country in Flagstaff AZ. It’s about 9′ to the bottom of the roof trusses, built on a concrete block stem wall foundation with 2×4 framing. The driveway and floor are both gravel. I use some of the space as a woodworking shop and metal shop, as well as maintaining vehicles and equipment, and it is filled with both tools as well as storing the various “stuff” of life that doesn’t quite fit in the modest house I share with a few roommates. My issue is that when I do mechanic type work in the shop, I spend more time looking for nuts and bolts that I’ve dropped in the gravel and sawdust on the ground than actual wrenching. As for the woodworking side of things, I would like to be able to move large tools around on mobile bases, but that of course is a struggle over the gravel, and a solid, flat surface would be more comfortable to work on and easier to keep tidy.
I’m the type of person that has more time and effort to spare than money, and if possible, I’d rather not have to move everything out of the garage at once to pour a concrete slab if possible (I’m a cheapskate). I like the idea of a modular approach where I can get either a cement mixer and pour a handful of small sections, maybe 10’x10′ gradually over time, or something similar to what I believe Patrick discussed with Mike Pekovich on Shop Talk Live where he laid down wood sleepers and covered that with sheet goods. I am okay not being able to put cars in the space. But if the best way to do it would be to have a pro pour a slab I could probably talk myself into sucking it up and having it done.
The other big upgrade I’d like to chip away at over the next few years would be to make the space a bit more comfortable. Currently the building has no insulation, just the exposed 2×4 framing and some home wrap under the sheathing with a trussed roof with no ceiling or anything inside. I don’t necessarily want to condition the space but would like to protect it from freezing and possibly raise the temperature a few degrees to make it more comfortable to work in, I may eventually heat the space with a woodstove. Any thoughts on the best place to start with that project as far as bang for buck or time spent would be incredible.
Thanks for all your great content. I look forward to every episode and it always makes me consider changing from my career as an arborist to being a builder!
- Another Take on a Concrete-Free Slab
- How to Pour a Rock-Solid, Well-Insulated Garage Slab
- Insulating a slab on grade foundation
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This episode is brought to you by Huber Engineered Woods, makers of AdvanTech and ZIP System products.
The Prove Tour product experience is coming to a lumber yard near you. Huber Engineered Woods fleet of traveling hands-on product demonstrations is hitting the road soon for lumberyard events across the country. Try ZIP System liquid flash, Zip System stretch tape, and AdvanTech subfloor adhesive in an immersive product experience. For event details, check out the stories and highlights on @huberwood on Instagram profile each week or ask your local Huber rep about a local “Prove It Tour” event near you.
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