Edited by Ted
New Window Codes Puzzle East Coast
Court Cuts Back Texas Mold Award
Time to Clean the Garage? Head to the
Big Snows Bring Roof Troubles
Circular Saw Recall
New Nailgun Rules Limit Bounce-Fire
Business Tune-Up: Replacing Yourself On
No. 2 & (Not Much) Better
Leaving the Grid? Pay at the Door
New Window Codes Puzzle
East Coast Builders
The International Code Council's 2000 International
Residential Code (IRC)
, which is replacing BOCA, ICBO,
SBCCI, and CABO residential codes nationwide, contains
significant changes to wind-resistant construction provisions
for coastal areas. As northeastern states adopt the IRC
builders near the ocean must consult redrawn wind maps to see
if they have to use storm shutters or laminated-glass windows
that can pass tough missile impact and pressure-cycle
Rhode Island adopted the IRC (with amendments) in fall
2002, but for months the state budget lacked money for code
books and training. A Rhode Island contractor told JLC
in October, "Nobody can tell me what I have to do. The building
inspectors don't know, the window suppliers don't know -- I
went out to a window plant in the Midwest for a week of
training, and they didn't answer all my questions either. I was
hoping to come back an expert, but that didn't happen."
Dade County, Fla., imposed tough wind codes and product
testing years ago, and dozens of storm-resistant window models
have Dade County labeling. "But you can't just spec Dade County
windows," said the Rhode Island builder. "Most of them have
aluminum frames and single-pane glass. They don't meet our
Rhode Island did make code books available late in 2002 and
put its "blue book" of state amendments on the web at
www.rules.state.ri.us. They also gave
builders a 90-day grace period to adjust. But product is still
a problem: Windows that meet both the wind standards and the
energy codes are only starting to reach the market. Even South
Carolina and North Carolina have struggled to find windows that
can meet state energy codes and also pass impact and pressure
tests. The whole east end of Long Island, N.Y., and most of the
island's shoreline fall under windborne debris rules; for
builders there, finding compliant windows has become a serious
Steve Berg, an Andersen Windows product manager, told
JLC in mid-February, "We just recently introduced our
first products with the high-performance, energy-efficient,
impact-resistant glass. We are beginning to release the second
phase of products this week, and we'll release the third phase
of products in very early March." The delays stem from
technical issues, said Berg: "The later products are the ones
we had to do a little more reinvention with."
Engineer Nanette McElman, a codes specialist from the
insurance industry's Institute for Business and Home Safety,
says, "To get lower U-values you need more air space within the
insulated glass, and that means a thicker sash. The challenge
seems to be reinforcing the frames. The sash and the glass
don't break, but it's hard to build the frame to handle the
New maps, new methods, new
standards. Even assuming windows become available,
builders subject to the new IRC face a complex design puzzle
even to figure out which design pressure (DP) or impact rating
their windows have to meet. The new requirements depend on more
than one factor: "Actually, there are six," says Andersen's
"First is the wind-speed zone: 100, 110, or 120 mph," Berg
explains. "Then there's proximity to the shore -- whether you
are right on the beach or further inland. A third one is the
mean roof height: How tall is the structure? Then, is the
structure important to the survival of the community: Is it a
residence, or is it something like a hospital or clinic?
Important buildings need better windows. There is also window
and door size; you don't need as high a design pressure for the
larger units as for the smaller ones. And then there is the
placement of the window in the structure. A unit within 4 feet
of the corner requires a higher design pressure."
Hand-inked map from the Rhode Island
Building Commission website shows how the state has redrawn new
wind-speed maps to follow county lines. Areas requiring
shutters or impact-proof glass have yet to be
There's another twist, says McElman, that builders can work to
their advantage. "Don't forget that the energy codes involve
tradeoffs," she points out. "Instead of having to use windows
with insulated low-e glass, you might be able to add insulation
to the walls or ceiling, or use more efficient appliances. Then
you can use single-pane laminated glass and have a less
expensive impact-rated window." In fact, McElman and the
insurance industry are pushing for a change to the model energy
codes to exempt shoreline homes from window U-value maximums.
"The difficulty in finding products is stopping states from
accepting the windborne debris requirements," says McElman.
"Energy conservation should never outweigh life safety."
Court Cuts Back Texas Mold
A Texas court of appeals in December threw out most of the
money damages in the now famous "mold lawsuit" brought by New
York publicist turned Texas homeowner Melinda Ballard against
the Farmers Insurance Group. Chopping the $32 million jury
award back to $4 million, the justices noted "no more than a
scintilla of evidence" that Farmers committed knowing fraud.
Under Texas law, this ruled out $15 million in punitive damages
and $5 million for pain and suffering.
The judges left standing a consumer protection violation that
occurred when Farmers waited four months to pay Ballard's
original claim for water damage to an oak floor. But they threw
out any interest that accrued after Ballard refused a
$382,738.69 check and held out for more money.
The appeals court turned down evidentiary appeals from both
sides. The trial court had barred testimony from Ballard's
health experts on the grounds that the science was not
reliable, but had not let Farmers use mediation records to show
that Ballard had rejected reasonable offers. Seeing no
egregious error, the appeals court deferred to the trial judge
on both counts.
Either side can now appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, but
that path holds risks for both. Ballard faces poor odds on the
personal-injury front -- courts seldom let experts peddle
theories of mold-related illness. But the high court could find
that the jury had some basis, however weak, for the fraud
verdict, and reinstate punitive damages. However, it could also
decide that Farmers did not get a fair trial because of the
exclusion of the evidence from mediation; or it could even
agree with Farmers that the case belonged in a different county
court. Either ruling could send Ballard back to square
Time to Clean the Garage? Head
to the ReStore
Building and remodeling generate a lot of "extra" stuff.
Torn-out windows, doors, and cabinets that are still good,
overstocked retail items, leftover lumber, and items ordered by
mistake often end up in the landfill.
But businessmen like remodeler Robert Criner of Criner
Construction in Yorktown, Va., and David Stemler of PC Building
Products in New Albany, Ind., are trying to make sure that
surplus material doesn't go to waste. Both men have helped to
create local retail outlets that offer surplus construction
material to the public at discounted prices, with the proceeds
going to support charity.
Criner worked with his local Habitat for Humanity chapter to
set up the ReStore. "I am as proud as can be over it," he says.
"We were able to do something that is a perfect win-win
scenario. Builders and suppliers donate new or used building
materials to the store, and the store sells the material to the
public. The customers get an excellent price, and with the
money, we build houses for Habitat." Donors avoid disposal
costs and in some cases may gain a tax advantage as well.
Stemler is also active with Habitat, but the store he helped
to start is associated with the Salvation Army. Located in a
vacated Lowe's building supply store, the salvage and surplus
building materials store shares the space with a traditional
thrift shop selling clothing and household items. The store
only opened for business in December, says Stemler, but as the
weather starts to warm up, the supplies are coming in. "There
is not a builder or remodeler out there who doesn't have a
garage full of this stuff," he says. "One builder brought in
three truckloads, and we must have sold $4,000 worth. People
are bringing in windows that are still shrink-wrapped."
Big Snows Bring Roof
February's blockbuster storms -- up to 3 feet of snow,
followed in some areas by cold rain -- hit East Coast roofs
with their heaviest structural loads in a decade or more. Most
passed the test, but the failures made news up and down the
Single-family houses held up well overall. "I don't worry much
about the old houses," said a New Hampshire building official,
"because they've been through big storms before. And the new
houses are built to better standards."
But commercial buildings are often engineered very close to
code minimums, noted a Massachusetts building commissioner --
"and when we get hit by rain, what was a 20,000-pound snow load
becomes a 60,000-pound load." Some flat commercial roofs
pancaked: Near Washington, D.C., the list of collapses included
a strip mall rental store, a bakery warehouse, two drugstores,
a Wal-Mart, a Toys R Us store, and a school. The storm also
exposed critical flaws in some old or poorly built traditional
structures, as several old barns and a dilapidated church
reportedly fell down.
Small, flat-roofed structures like porches posed a particular
risk. A Philadelphia woman was crushed by a collapsing patio
roof. Dozens of flat sunroom roofs fell in at a New Jersey
seniors development. ("We're asking them to stay out of those
sunrooms," said police.) Also in New Jersey, one person was
killed and four hurt when a smoking shelter collapsed without
And a disabled New Hampshire man says he narrowly escaped the
same fate when his collie dog, which is trained as a caretaker,
physically pushed him off his porch just seconds before the
12x16-foot roof crashed down under a 4,000-pound load of snow.
"I was leaning over the railing," the man told a reporter. "It
would have cut me in half."
Circular Saw Recall
Makita USA, Inc., announced in December that the company is
recalling about 180,000 of its popular 71/4-inch circular saws,
because there is a risk that the blade guards may jam. The move
is just a precaution, Makita says -- the company has not
received any reports of incidents.
The recall involves saws with the model number 5740NB, sold
between April 1998 and November 2002. However, no 5740NB saws
with an "N" before the serial number on the nameplate and a
blue dot on the shipping carton are involved in the
Saws can be returned to a Makita factory service center for a
free repair. Details are available from Makita at
New Nailgun Rules Limit
Starting in May of this year, framers picking up a new nailgun
may notice a few changes. An industry committee has agreed to
new rules for the "actuation systems" (triggers and safeties)
on many models. Light-duty tools aren't included, but framing
guns will now ship with one of four control systems: "single
sequential actuation, full sequential actuation, selective
actuation, or automatic reversion actuation." However, the rule
adds, "for purposes of functionality and utility, other
actuation systems may be available."
What this means in plain English is that most guns will not
bounce-nail out of the box, but suppliers may ship alternate
parts so users can modify the guns for bounce-nailing. Guns
that will bounce-nail can also be specially ordered. If you
want bounce-nailing, in other words, you have to ask for
Some companies are already ahead of the curve. Japanese
toolmakers Makita and Max already ship guns with a selector
that lets the user switch from single-shot to bounce-nail or
off ("selective actuation"). Senco already has "automatic
reversion" -- guns equipped with the company's ThinkTrac system
default to sequential mode (push the nose, then fire) whenever
the user stops bounce-nailing for more than a second.
"If you ship a tool that only fires sequential, they won't buy
it," says one tool company exec. "The challenge is to keep the
people happy but still make a safe tool."
Replacing Yourself On Site
When you leave the job site, does the work slow down?
Probably. So what do you do when it's time for you to
permanently make that move?
A roofing company owner I work with is in the process of
switching from running his crew to running his business. He
confided recently that he was having trouble estimating labor.
"I know how many squares my crew can lay in an hour. But that's
with me on the job. As soon as I get off the roof, they're
suddenly doing half as much. Now I keep underestimating labor
So why not designate a foreman? He'd tried, he told me, but
with disappointing results. "I ask a guy technical questions,
and he gives me good answers. Technically, he's capable. But as
soon as I leave the job, problems come up that slow down the
And as with any crew, the owner encountered the issue of
seniority versus ability. Some employees expected to be "led"
by the crew member who had been with the company the longest.
But more recent hires with better skills objected.
That attitude is surprisingly common. I first learned how
highly valued seniority is when I had to put together a job
assignment board for a client company. I listed the employees
alphabetically, figuring that was logical. But the owner took
one look and said, "Oh, that will never work. The boys will be
offended." In that company, I learned to my astonishment, every
employee list in any document had to be arranged by date of
hire, with the latest hire last.
When faced with that mindset, one option is just to pick your
best leader -- regardless of how long he's been with you, or
how skilled he is -- and provide him with skill and supervisory
But it might work better to look outside the company for your
supervisor. Any lead person who comes from within your existing
crew, unless he also happens to have been with the company
longest, may face huge resistance from the rest of the crew if
they perceive that he has been unjustifiably endowed with more
power, authority, or money. Better to outline your own plans to
move from field to office ahead of time, and explain that
you're going to hire someone to replace you in the field. Make
sure the crew understands that this person's job is not just to
keep the job running smoothly, but to be responsible for
paperwork and communication with the office (and perhaps the
homeowner). Stressing the difference between the functions your
crew members handle so well and the duties of this new position
may ease your crew's acceptance of a new addition to the
No. 2 & (Not Much) Better
If you've noticed a gradual decline in the quality of 2x4
framing lumber, it may not have anything to do with the trees.
Visual lumber grades like Standard and Better (Std&Btr) or
Number Two and Better (#2&Btr) can encompass a wide range
of quality, but the Random Lengths lumber market
newsletter reports that mills are increasingly pulling out the
nicer sticks for special purposes.
University of Massachusetts professor David Damery explains,
"Customers like Home Depot tell their suppliers, 'We'll pay a
small premium for that prime grade, but that is all we want.
Don't give us any regular #2&Btr.'"
"In some cases the logs coming out of the woods are even
better than they used to be, because we have plantation wood
coming on line that is very consistent," says Damery. "But the
log only gives so much -- when you pull better stuff out, the
average gets lower. The remainder still meets the #2&Btr
grade, but the pile looks worse."
But Damery says builders who want quality wood can still find
it. "You can look for suppliers who are stocking that prime
grade. Or you can look for the lumberyards that don't buy on
price. Some sawmills still train their graders to do a little
better than the floor. And certain lumberyards go to two or
three chosen suppliers who they know will consistently give a
Leaving the Grid? Pay at
California's growing alternative power industry may be about
to inherit the lingering headaches of the state's troubled
conventional power system. Regulators seeking to recover
financially from recent policy fiascos are considering
assessing electric customers "exit fees" if they produce some
of their own juice from wind, solar, biofuels, or private
generators but stay grid-connected for backup power.
The proposed fees would continue until the state's
multibillion-dollar debt, built up during the recent power
crisis, was retired. Money would go to help pay the state's
back bills for high-priced power bought during the 2001 crisis,
help bail out the state's private electric utilities, support
existing utility capacity that no longer is economical, and
help pay for any power the state has future contracts for that
gets replaced by alternative sources. Fees would in effect
raise the price of independent power and lengthen the payback
period for wind and solar power investments.
"Distributed power" producers -- the owners of small local
generating facilities, many of them gas or oil powered --
generate about 2,000 megawatts in California, enough to power
about a million homes. "Like other residents and businesses,
they will continue to pay bail-out costs for the state's
electricity system for each kilowatt they draw from the grid,"
says the Environmental News Service, "but now they also
would have to pay on power they generate themselves."
But faced by protests from solar and wind producers,
policymakers are considering exempting nonpolluting sources
from the fees. It makes sense, observers note -- state and
industry sources provide millions of dollars in incentives to
support solar power, and the fees would amount to taking back
with one hand what they give with the other.
OffcutsNeed a refresher course (or a primer) on basic wood
Virginia Tech wood design profs are
offering a three-day wood design basics course May 12-14 in
Blacksburg, Va. Aimed at people who build or design wood
structures but never got university training, the course will
focus on practical code-conforming design of simple wood
structures. For more information, visit
Germany's Ministry of Construction building is riddled
with costly construction defects, according to a report by
Reuters news service. The problems are said to include cracked
walls, leaking windows, and faulty air conditioning. According
to a ministry spokesperson, the companies responsible for the
faulty work will foot the bill for needed repairs.
Modular housing is expected to capture an increased share
of the market in coming years, according to a recent study
by the Cleveland-based Freedonia Group. Nationwide, the study
predicts, modular housing will grow 1.2% annually through the
year 2005. The 33,500 modular homes built in 2001 accounted for
2% of all housing starts that year.
The Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industries has
published an informational paper on mold. The AWCI
commissioned the Chelsea Group, an environmental consulting and
engineering firm, to write the paper, which is meant to provide
builders with specific information on preventing mold as well
as dealing with existing mold. The 46-page paper can be
downloaded from the organization's website,
Chivalry is dead, at least among tradesmen in the United
Kingdom, according to British press reports. An insurance
company there hired men and women investigators to call
plumbers, electricians, and carpenters for minor repair jobs.
All the trades routinely charged women up to double what they
charged men for the same work, often recommending complete
replacements to women customers but telling men that only a
small repair was needed.
A federal judge in Philadelphia has sentenced a former city
plumbing inspector to 30 months in jail and two years of
supervised release, on top of a $7,500 fine, after the
57-year-old man was convicted of taking cash from plumbers
whose work he inspected, according to the Associated Press. The
sentence was the lightest allowable under federal sentencing
guidelines, which specify a 30- to 37-month jail term.
Florida lawmakers are considering lien law reforms that
would leave builders, not homeowners, on the hook for unpaid
bills from subcontractors and suppliers, according to a
report in the Citrus County Chronicle. Current law
forces some homeowners to pay subs or vendors to get a lien
removed, even if they have already paid the builder.
Legislators say they expect builder opposition to the
New Hampshire may move to license building contractors,
reports the Union Leader. The state got 223 complaints
against contractors in 2002. The issue was highlighted when a
couple allegedly abducted a woman from a Concord contractor's
office at gunpoint, trying to get back $8,500 they say was due
to them. Passing agents from the office of the federal Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms across the street promptly
arrested the pair; the contractor himself was already in jail
awaiting trial on a $5,500 swindling charge. Convicted of
felony fraud in California in the 1990s, he also faces a state
civil suit seeking $340,000 on behalf of cheated
Nineteen thousand Utah contractors and vendors will have to
kick in $125 each to the state's Residence Lien Recovery
Fund, established to pay off subcontractor liens on homes, in
order to restore the fund's financial health. The fund is down
to just $1.5 million, after outlays of almost $4 million. Utah
builders are resisting a suggestion to rebuild the fund with a
fee on building permits.
Construction activity in Arizona may be linked to an
illness known as valley fever. The illness causes flu-like
symptoms that sicken thousands each year and occasionally leads
to fatal complications. It's caused by fungal spores native to
dry areas of the Southwest, and public health officials suspect
that dust from construction on previously undisturbed desert
soils is responsible for a fourfold increase in reported cases
over the past decade.
A new action-figure toy named Construction Jack will begin
appearing in toy stores later this year. The 12-inch
figure, manufactured by a company called Link Innovations,
comes dressed in denim overalls, work boots, and a brown canvas
jacket. Also included are a toolbox and toolbelt, hard hat, and
safety glasses. A product review on one toy-industry website
notes approvingly that "Jack is a bit beefier than most
1:6th-scale action figures, with bigger and more defined
muscles on his arms and legs."
New houses in much of Denver will be getting smaller,
under a new zoning plan adopted by the city council in January.
The new rules, which apply to teardowns and additions in about
60% of the city, reduce the maximum size of a house on a
typical 50x125-foot lot from 5,500 square feet to between 4,200
and 4,600 feet. Proponents claim that the new rules were
necessary to prevent "monster houses" from destroying the
historic character of existing neighborhoods.Back to