Radon Check During
Scott Anderson's "Foolproof Cure for Wet Basements" (12/05) is
a great article with a lot of helpful detail.
One additional step that could help homeowners would be to
check the radon levels in the basement during the excavation
work. In homes west of the Mississippi, you can use an $80
radon detector for a period of three to four days in the
basement. If the radon levels are higher than the recommended
minimums, the interior perimeter drainage system can be used as
a collection system to remove the radon gas.
If the homeowner doesn't want to spring for a radon fan, at
least the piping for the evacuation system can be installed
before the concrete pour.
Electronic Site Services
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Beware Backfill Pressure
Having read Mr. Anderson's article on basement drainage
systems, I wanted to add a word of caution about the tremendous
force that the earth backfill places on the outside of the
I was contracted to finish the inside of a basement after a
perimeter drain was installed there. The drainage contractor
had removed the concrete basement floor all along the back wall
in one continuous cutting approximately 2 feet away from the
inside concrete block wall.
Overnight, the back wall shifted off the footing and collapsed,
and the rear of the house dropped quite a bit.
For whatever reason, there was no provision to back up the
support that the concrete floor provided to the base of the
block wall. Most basement floors are poured after the walls are
in place, which in my area is called a floating slab. That this
support was gone had disastrous consequences.
Thankfully, no one was hurt. But to the chagrin of the
contractor, a hefty, expensive repair ensued, including having
to excavate most of the back yard, installing emergency support
for the house, and placing a new reinforced concrete basement
wall and drainage system.
In hindsight, either the trench should have been cut in shorter
sections or some sort of temporary shoring and support at the
base of the wall should have been provided.
Martin A. Suttle, Owner
Martin A. Suttle Construction
Regarding the article "Foolproof Cure for Wet Basements": I'm
not sure anything is "foolproof."
The interior perimeter drainage system has its place and can
work very well. However, I don't think your magazine should
suggest it's foolproof and has no limitations or potential
Joseph D. Shuffleton, PE
Spanish: Good for Business
Andy Podoliuk (Letters, 12/05) represents a viewpoint I find as
offensive as the offense he took at "¿Habla
Español?" (8/05). In a perfect world, no one would go
anyplace or do anything without speaking the host country's
language perfectly. And every immigrant would speak Eng-
lish before applying for any position.
But the reality of the marketplace suggests that we might be
well-served to accommodate our friends and neighbors who don't
yet have the language skills they might need but who are
otherwise dedicated, reliable employees. Nobody's cramming
Spanish down my throat, and while we do encourage our Latino
employees to study English, we also find it pretty darn
efficient to communicate with them in Spanish. It builds trust
and minimizes errors. Perhaps learning a new language in their
adult years is not their forte. To me, communicating in Spanish
is not "bending over backwards." It's just a good business
Integrity Development and Construction
The dangers to people in construction posed by mold ("Mold and
the Law," Legal, 11/05) are real, but stem mainly from public
hysteria, fomented by the legal trade. The author's statement
that "people have died because their lungs were bleeding" from
a mold reaction is unsupported by any science that I am aware
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies released a
study of the known science on mold in May 2004, and found no
clear link between mold and health effects. The committee also
concluded that while mold may induce asthmatic symptoms in
asthmatics who are sensitive to it, the evidence wasn't strong
enough to demonstrate a causal relationship.
But though there seems to be little danger of death, you can
easily be ruined in court if you have been negligent in
preventing excess moisture in your buildings. The precautions
urged by the author should be taken seriously, if only to keep
the lawyers at bay.
Carl Mezoff, AIA
Source for Rising Hinges
Approximately 20 years ago, I purchased 4-inch butt hinges that
raise the door as it swings inward about an inch, so that it
can pass over throw rugs.
I don't remember the manufacturer, but I remember the name of
the hardware company — Constantine's, in Yonkers,
I haven't seen these hinges anywhere else and haven't been able
to locate the catalog. Can anyone help? This is a great
product. Thank you.
Rising butt hinges are still available from Constantine's
(800/443-9667) in both 3-inch and 4-inch sizes for either
right- or left-hand doors. — The Editors
Human Counterweights: Bad
I was appalled at the photo you chose to print in "Very Old
Growth" (Backfill, 1/06). I refer to the bottom left photo
showing two workers serving as counterweights.
First of all, if an added counterweight is needed to lift a
load, this is a strong indication that the forklift is lifting
beyond its load limits.
Second, the two employees are being subjected to an
unacceptable risk. They are vulnerable to a serious injury if
there is any sudden movement of the forklift; their body
position is absolutely unacceptable.
Other than the operator, no riders should be allowed on any
moving heavy equipment.
Jack L. Hawkins
Senior Safety Officer
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
I happened to be on the mall in Washington, D.C., when the
Solar Decathlon, featuring student-built solar-powered houses,
opened to the public (In the News, 12/05).
Unlike the blue sky shown in the photos accompanying the
article, the sky that day was dumping buckets from the remnants
of Hurricane Rita. Inside many of the houses, students were
scrambling with wastepaper baskets and mops, trying to sop up
the rainwater streaming in through their roofs.
Perhaps for next year's competition, one of the houses can make
use of an energy-producing waterwheel.
Strength of Wet Panels
The response to the question "Does flooding damage framing
lumber?" (Q&A, 11/05) mostly hit the mark. However, the
reader is led to believe that the process of wetting and drying
compromises the integrity of plywood and OSB. Clearly this is
not the case.
Structural plywood and OSB are made with water-resistant
adhesives that retain their strength when wet. Although the
panels will be rougher from water exposure, they will most
likely still be structurally sound. Panels saturated with water
will feel less stiff than those in a dry condition. Once the
panels are dry, strength typically returns and only minor
repairs to isolated delaminated areas may be necessary.
APA-trademarked plywood with water-resistant adhesives will
contain the words "Exposure 1" or "Exterior." OSB sheathing is
made with water-resistant adhesives and will also say "Exposure
APA-The Engineered Wood Association
Paul Fisette responds: I think we agree on this. Structural OSB
and plywood do withstand some wetting, as you describe. My
point is that if composite products and, say, metal truss
connections are submerged for 10 days or more, I would be
concerned about their performance. Structural panel products
like OSB and plywood were designed for wetting during normal
construction, but not for two weeks' submersion under
Stair Stringers: Watch the
I'm writing concerning "Housed-Stringer Exterior Stairs"
(11/05). As I am not a carpenter, much of the article was
beyond my needs, but as a code inspector, the part that was
germane to my job caught my eye.
The article gives instructions for laying out and cutting a
stair tread 9 3/4 inches wide. The problem here is that the
required "nosing to nosing" tread dimension ("run" in the
article) for residential construction is 10 inches minimum (11
inches in commercial.)
I believe that it's geometrically impossible to achieve a
code-conforming tread width if the stair stringer cutout is not
also 10 inches.
When measuring run, carpenters often think in terms of the
distance from the riser board to the "overhang" (nosing), as
this is the size of the lumber required.
Unfortunately, this will result in a nonconforming tread width
every time, in the amount of the overhang. Many a stair has
been rebuilt in Portsmouth because it was short by the overhang
By the way, it was great to see in the photograph that these
stairs included a prominent (but often missed) "graspable
Richard A. Hopley
Chief Building Inspector
Author Andy Engel responds: For anyone working under the
new International Residential Code, you are absolutely right.
The stair in the article was built in Connecticut, where the
local code requires a minimum 9-inch run.
I agree with David Grubb (On the Job, 10/05) on the usefulness
of on-site Internet access. We've been using the Verizon air
card with great success. In town, it's broadband and very fast.
It also works — although a little slower — anywhere
there is cellular coverage. It worked for me in Boston and
Seattle and while traveling on I-5 for more than an hour.
I use it for sending job-site photos and for answering e-mail
while waiting for inspectors or when I'm having my oil
It's great to be able to watch the weather radar, too.
Thomas R. Payne
Craftsman Homes Group
Notice to Purchasers of JLC Field
Guide, Volume 2
We have recently published the second volume of JLC Field Guide
to Residential Construction. Volume 2 covers electrical,
plumbing, hvac and energy, and interiors. We hope it will be a
useful tool for the builders and remodelers who purchase
Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that some errors
crept past our editorial production team in the first press
run. Since some of these are content-related, we wanted to
bring them to the attention of anyone who has already purchased
Volume 2. We have created a Web page at
www.jlcbooks.com/updates where you can view
and download PDF images containing the corrected
We appreciate your understanding and ongoing support as we
strive to bring you the most accurate, up-to-date, and useful
building information available. — The