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Features

Letters

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    Letters

    Attic temperatures and asphalt shingles; cynicism vs. basic economics; when employees compete

     
  • Letters

    Legal debate; quality-control checklist; call for advice; woodpecker problems; more

     
  • Letters

    Unvented attics meet code; mystery setup; the joy of SIPs; safety-story feedback; more

     
  • Letters

    Proper water-heater temperature; performance guidelines; preventive maintenance; more

     
  • Letters

    Dampproofing vs. waterproofing; sound control; concealed electrical splices; more

     
  • Letters

    More on immigration; rain-screen siding; guardrail codes; vinyl sunburst; theft

     

In the News

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    In the News

    Small builders join forces; California bill slashes lead in plumbing; more

     
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    In the News

    Deck ledger bolting schedule may become code; pump-truck accident; West Coast Green show; more

     

News

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    In the News

    Insurer wins Katrina case; Rhode Island toughens registration rules; Wisconsin limits impact fees; building costs rise; more

     
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    In the News

    Coastal insurance crisis; concrete-canoe race; toilet testing; wetlands ruling; more

     
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    In the News: After Katrina: One Year Later

    A year after Katrina: voices and impressions from a region rethinking how to build

     
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    In the News

    Sinking homes and abandoned mines; Boston land-use regs study; storm-damage niche; more

     

Q&A

  • Is Veneer Plaster Compatible With Drywall?

    Q: Can you skim-coat plaster over regular drywall? If not, is there a way to prep standard drywall so that a veneer plaster finish can be applied over it?

     
  • Green Alternatives to Traditional Building Materials

    Q: I live in northern coastal California, in the heart of the redwoods. We're currently remodeling a simple structure (in a highly visible town-square location) into an elaborately detailed storefront, in keeping with the surrounding 1880s architecture. While all the vintage storefronts (and their...

     
  • Offsetting Bearing Walls

    Q: There's a framing rule of thumb I've used for years that says it's okay to offset a second-story bearing wall from the first-story bearing wall below, as long as you don't offset it by more than the depth of the joist. We use this rule for standard dimensional lumber, but would it also apply to...

     
  • Sawn vs. Plywood Shims

    Q: Ideally, pier/beam connections are always properly aligned, with the pier at the right elevation to fully support the beam above. But in the real world, a little shimming always seems to be required. Are shims ripped from framing lumber really adequate

     
  • Q&A: Service-Entrance Cable Under a Garage

    Q: The proposed location for my client's new detached garage is right on top of a buried service-entrance cable. The electric meter is mounted on a pedestal about 100 feet from the house, and a conduit runs to the house through the area where the garage —

     
  • Fast Fix for Dark Paneling

    Q: We recently completed the remodel of a 1970s relic complete with dark paneling and shag carpet. In some areas, the homeowner acquiesced and allowed us to apply new 1/2-inch drywall over the old paneling, while in other areas we simply painted over it.

     
  • Paint Over Stain?

    Q. Paint Over Stain? Is it okay to use an exterior latex house paint over stained wood siding?

     
  • Insulating a Block Wall

    Q. I'm renovating an uninsulated cape built with concrete-block walls. The plans call for gutting and reframing the interior and installing shingle siding on the exterior. Because the building needs to be insulated to comply with local (Long Island, N.Y.) code, I was considering adding a layer of...

     
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    Do Fiber-Cement Butt Joints Have to Be Caulked?

    Q: The clients on an upcoming project are interested in installing fiber-cement siding, but they're concerned about how the butt joints will look. While they don't expect the tight-fitting seams characteristic of wooden clapboards, they also don't like the look of wide caulked joints. Is there a...

     
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    Rejuventating Aged Drywall

    Q: My company is converting a garage with drywall on its walls and ceiling into living space.The joints have been taped with one coat of mud, but some of the tape is dry and loose, and the drywall's paper surface — which was never primed — has darkened an

     
  • Borate-Treated Lumber Okay For Mudsills?

    Q: I know that some framers are using lumber treated with SBX (sodium borate) as a substitute for ACQ because it is less corrosive to fasteners, but I'm concerned about short-term exposure to rain and the longevity of the borate treatment itself, which co

     
  • Q&A: Noisy Expansion Tank

    Q: Even though I followed the manufacturer's specifications when I installed the 2-gallon thermal expansion tank and check valve for my customers' domestic hot-water system, they still complain of "clicking" noises, mainly during the heating season. Does

     
  • Woodpeckers and Cedar Siding

    Q: We recently completed a house that features vertical T&G cedar siding, but now my clients are complaining about woodpeckers making holes in the siding. Are there any simple techniques for dealing with this problem?

     
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    Tiling a Flangeless Tub

    Q: What's the best way to detail the joint between a deck-mounted tub that lacks an integral tiling flange and the tiled tub surround so that it won't leak?

     
  • Reinforcing Old Framing

    Q: We're remodeling a 1930s vintage San Diego home and have to seismically reinforce its cripple walls with plywood, shear transfer plates, and hold-downs. Because all the framing is very dry and most of the cripples measure only 1 foot to 2 feet in lengt

     
  • Storms and Screens for Metal Casement Windows

    Q: My clients love the look of the original diamond-grid metal casement windows in their historic stone house, but they are not happy with the windows' performance in cold winter weather. The outswinging casements have been fitted with fixed interior stor

     
  • Substituting Synthetic Roof Underlayments for Housewrap

    Q: After stripping the original siding from a 30-year-old house, I'm being asked to re-side with 4x8 and 4x9 fiber-cement panels designed to look like stucco. The installation instructions permit caulking at the vertical joints, but call for Z-flashing at

     

On the Job

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    On the Job: Salt-Finished Concrete

    Salt-finished concrete

     
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    On the Job

    Tile rug; blown-in cellulose

     
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    Framing an Elliptical Staircase

    Recently, my friend Nick Ridge and I took on a job in Northern California that had an interesting challenge — an elliptical staircase with a self-supporting inside stringer.

     
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    Installing Sheet Piles

    When you live on a barrier island, just keeping your little piece of real estate from washing away is a constant struggle. Fred Sprinkle, a foundation and excavation contractor on Dauphin Island, Ala., frequently uses vinyl sheet pilings to keep the ground beneath his clients' homes from ending up...

     
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    On the Job

    Steel I-beam rafter pair; rock-breaking tip; ice supports

     
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    On the Job

    Hanging a pergola ledger; quick barrel ceiling; more

     

Design

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    Columns, Posts, Piers: What's Best for the Porch?

    There's no question that a porch looks and feels best when all of its components relate to the rest of the house's design. In an earlier column, we focused on how porch guardrails can complement a home (5/06); here, we'll talk about ways that porch columns, posts, and piers can do the same.

     
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    Composing With Shingle Cladding

    Any time you use shingles as siding, you face an array of design decisions: Should you weave the corners or use corner boards? Should you use patterns — and if so, where, and which ones? Would a shingle flare or bow be appropriate?

     

Business

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    No More Bids: Switching to Negotiated Contracts

    I used to run my business the way most contractors do: I'd visit potential clients, review the plans their architects had drawn, agree to bid against a group of other contractors, and then spend 10 to 100 hours estimating the work.

     
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    Business

    Prepare your company for the end of the year; get paid faster with credit cards

     
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    Pricing Handyman Work

    It may surprise you to find out that you're not in business to exercise your skill as a craftsman, to get a sense of pride from a job well-done, or to enjoy a sense of freedom by being your own boss. As good as those benefits are, they're by-products, not the purpose itself.

     
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    Different Folks, Different Strokes

    How to write a practical business plan; different folks, different strokes

     
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    Prevent Errors With a Quality-Control Checklist

    At my remodeling company, we rely on many forms and checklists to run our jobs. The one we use most is our quality-control checklist.

     
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    Management by Meeting

    After years of trial and error (mostly error), I've become a firm believer in management by meetings. Whether I like it or not, my primary job as company owner is overseeing meetings.

     

Legal

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    Managing Material Costs With an Escalation Clause

    The other night, my husband and I watched a television show about contractors in California who are walking away from unfinished houses. But few contractors will walk away from an unfinished job voluntarily. That's definitely not part of their business plan. So why would it happen?

     
  • How a Bidding Error Can Turn Into a Disaster

    It's your worst nightmare: You've submitted a bid, it's been accepted, and then you find out there was a mistake in your estimate or that your bid was based on a subcontractor's mistake.

     
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    Protect Your Assets

    Whenever I speak somewhere, I preach about the importance of separating your personal assets from your company's assets. The best way to do this is by incorporating your business as a corporation or an LLC.

     
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    Keep Your License Current

    The California Supreme Court recently made a decision that I personally disagree with. Does the court care what I think? I'm sure it doesn't. Do you care? Well, you should — even if you're in another state — because if you don't keep your license current, you could face the same problem as the...

     
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    Personal Guaranty of Business Debt

    Most credit applications contain a personal guaranty. In this one, it's clearly spelled out in item No. 4, but in some cases it's buried in a longer document and written in language that makes it hard for the applicant to understand just what he's agreeing to.

     
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    Alternative Materials and Code

    I can just hear your response to that topic: "Code enforcement officers are hassling me because I want to use a wood composite they haven't seen before, but they're approving houses made of straw. Who's running the building department, the three little pigs?"

     

Kitchen & Bath

Products

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    Products

    Deck treatments; brick pavers & patio stones; storm doors & windows

     
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    Products

    Fencing; soundproofing; lighting

     
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    Products

    Surface protection; mold fighters; accessibility; efficient lighting

     
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    Products

    Garage storage; windows; flashing

     
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    Products

    Basement finishing; brick & masonry; hvac grilles & registers

     
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    Products

    Panels; metal roofing; insulation

     

Toolbox

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    Toolbox

    Worx recip saw; Bosch PS10 I-Driver; vinyl siding; fiber cement

     
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    Toolbox

    Makita 2704X1 table saw; roll-around trim station; concrete & masonry cutting; floor installation

     
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    Toolbox

    Bosch PS20 Pocket Driver; Pipe Shredder; plumbing tools; job-site security

     
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    Toolbox

    PLS2E laser; drywall lift from eBay; specialty nailers; lifting equipment

     
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    Toolbox

    Hitachi NR90AE round-head framing nailer; roofing tools; truck racks & boxes

     

Backfill

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    Straw-Bale Vault

    It's not every day that a world-famous artist asks you to design and build a retreat honoring the work of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy — in highly seismic Joshua Tree, Calif., to boot.

     
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    Breakneck Backhoe

    With a top speed of 20 mph, most backhoe loaders are unlikely candidates for the passing lane. The HMEE (high-mobility engineer excavator) is different.

     
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    Men of Oak

    Most small businesses don't stick around for 50 years, so when Williams Hardwood Flooring made it to that important milestone, company president Jim Leslie decided to do something special: He commissioned chain-saw carver Michael Blaine of Winchester, N.H., to make a life-size sculpture of two...

     
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    The Biggest Thing to Hit Town in 74 Million Years

    About 80 miles northwest of Des Moines, Iowa, lies the small town of Manson. Nothing much has ever happened there, unless you count the time 74 million years ago when a giant meteor crashed nearby. Actually, calling it "giant" doesn't do it justice: The meteor was 1 1/2 miles across, weighed 10...

     
  • Backfill: Sign Language From the Streets of New Orleans

    Sign language in New Orleans

     
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    Plumber's Worst Nightmare: A Five-Ton Tub

    Architects like Roger Hopkins. Carpenters and electricians like him, too. But plumbers? They hate him. It's not that they don't appreciate his stone benches and garden sculpture — but they're the ones who have to install the sinks and tubs he carves from giant boulders.