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Features

Letters

  • Letters

    Protecting trees on site; radiant-heat claims revisited; unnecessary design regulations; pedal power; more

     
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    Letters

    Architectural abomination; protecting trees on site; reasons for red flags; grounding three-prong outlets

     
  • Letters

    Another look at energy claims; feeling the financial squeeze

     
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    Letters

    Framing tip; trigger-happy carpenters; defense of recessed lights; broken compact fluorescents; more

     
  • Letters

    Interior-design law; stabilizing steel against buckling; respect for legal immigrants

     

News

  • News

    IRC adopts residential-sprinkler requirement; Long Island town imposes energy-efficiency standards; new homes shrinking; more

     
  • In the News

    Roofing nails puncture gas lines in Texas; hot countertops rattle kitchen and bath industry; dustup over drywall

     
  • In the News

    hub for cooking and entertainment

     
  • In the News

    Study shows high on-the-job death rate for Hispanic workers; San Diego launches new recycling mandate; states crack down on copper theft; more

     
  • In the News

    Austin passes modest accessibility requirement for new houses; study finds pneumatic-nailer triggering has little effect on speed; builders fined for runoff; more

     

Q&A

  • Removing Kerdi Epoxy Grout With Heat

    Q: Using a heat gun is an approved method for removing cured epoxy grout from tiles and fixtures [see Q&A, 5/08]. But can the same technique be used when the tile has been installed over Schluter’s Kerdi waterproofing membrane, or would the heat damage the membrane?

     
  • Can Dimmer Switches Save Energy?

    Q: We know that compact fluorescents deliver energy savings, but how about dimmer switches? The assumption is that homeowners will use them to turn down lights to save money — but do they actually save energy?

     
  • Are Windows Required in Basements?

    Q: We’d like to start building basements with precast concrete panels, but we’ve been running into resistance from local code officials. Are basement windows required when a house is built with a full foundation?

     
  • Is It Safe to Retrofit Exterior Foam Insulation?

    Q: I built a lot of homes in upstate New York in the 1980s using 2x6 studs, fiberglass batts, and a poly vapor retarder for the shell. Given the rising cost of heating and cooling, the owners are asking about energy upgrades to their walls. I'd like to suggest adding 1 or 2 inches of rigid foam on...

     
  • Preventing Gaps in PVC Trim

    Q: I've completed a couple of projects with cellular PVC trim boards, and in both of them wide gaps have opened up in the joints even though we used both glue and nails during installation. Is there a way to prevent these gaps from occurring?

     
  • Upgrading a Pocket-Hole Jig

    Q: Recently I discovered that my faithful Kreg pocket-hole jig somehow got "lost" on my last job site. I want to replace it. Is upgrading to the Foreman pocket-hole cutter worthwhile, or should I just stick with the same jig?

     
  • How to Build a Climbing Wall

    Q: I'm planning an addition for a client who wants to turn a 22-foot-high wall into a climbing wall. He would like this wall to closely resemble stone, but he doesn't want it to cost as much as natural stone. I've poured a lot of flat concrete, but I have never built something like this - so I...

     
  • What Causes Drywall Fasteners to Pop?

    Q: On a recent project, several hundred screw pops showed up on the primed walls and ceilings. About half the boards in the house had to be rescrewed and patched, and all the drywall had to be reprimed. Although it was raining when the drywall was stocked, my drywaller says he did not use any of...

     
  • New Deck Footings Near an Old Foundation

    Q. Plans for a freestanding deck call for new piers about 2 feet from the house foundation. Is it necessary to dig down to the bottom of the house's footing to reach undisturbed soil, or would the dirt around the foundation of a 60-year-old house be compacted enough to be con sidered undisturbed -...

     
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    Rafter Ties and Shallow-Pitch Roofs

    Q. My clients have a garage with a conventionally framed 4/12 roof that they want to convert to living space. They like the idea of a vaulted ceiling but not the expense of the new structural ridge it would require. As a compromise, can I replace the existing ceiling joists with rafter ties?

     
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    Quick Fix for a Noisy Circulation Fan

    Q. My client's metal fireplace is supplied by a makeup air system with a built-in circulation fan. This fan - which plugs into an accessible outlet - is triggered by a heat sensor in the fireplace. While effective, it's also very loud. To reduce the noise, I'd like to replace the fan's on/off...

     
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    Best Corner Framing

    Q: What's the best way to frame outside corners?

     
  • Concrete Without Steel?

    Q: Does the addition of fibers eliminate the need for steel in a concrete-slab basement floor?

     
  • Burying Electrical Wiring In Attic Insulation

    Q: I know that knob-and-tube wiring can't be covered with insulation, but what about BX cable and joist-mounted junction boxes? Are there any restrictions on blowing cellulose insulation into an attic and burying the cable and junction boxes?

     
  • Gluing a Glulam

    Q: For one of our projects, we need to make a solid wood attachment to a glulam beam that seems to have a special finish on it. Should we use a particular type of glue to make the connection?

     
  • Flexible Fittings and Plumbing Codes

    Q: No-hub rubber couplings with band clamps on the ends are handy for making all sorts of plumbing connections, but are there limitations on where they can be used?

     
  • Does Radiant-Barrier Paint Work?

    Q: My painting subcontractor is recommending Thermo-Tek, a paint the manufacturer says is a radiant barrier. What can you tell me about products like this one or similar coatings made with something called ceramic microspheres that claim to have thermal characteristics and promise significant...

     
  • Building With Logs

    Q: A design we're bidding on has several peeled cedar logs that function as both architectural and structural elements. Are there any rules of thumb for determining their strength so that they can be safely used without redundant grade-stamp framing - and so they meet the approval of a building...

     
  • Vertical I-Joists?

    Q: When building a super-insulated house, one of the ways to increase insulation levels in the wall assembly is to increase the thickness of the wall. But instead of using double-wall framing, would it be okay to frame walls with I-joists?

     
  • Upgrading to Three-Prong Outlets

    Q. In an older house wired with BX cable, can the original two-prong outlets be upgraded to three-prong grounded outlets, provided they're properly bonded to the original metallic boxes?

     
  • Overdriven Fasteners in ZIP System Sheathing

    Q. When fastening ZIP System sheathing to wall and roof framing with our pneumatic nailers, we've found that it's difficult to keep nail heads from penetrating the applied protective barrier on the face of the panels. Won't these holes compromise the moisture barrier's integrity and lead to...

     
  • Clarifying Liability Coverage

    Q. After working for several years as an employee, I recently headed out on my own and began shopping around for liability insurance. Most policies offer "occurrence" coverage, but one company offers a "claims made" policy that provides similar coverage for less money. What's the difference between...

     

On the Job

Business

  • Surviving the Recession

    We’re in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty in the financial markets, and consumer confidence is the lowest it’s been in a long time. It seems that no one really knows what’s going to happen.

     
  • Defining Your Niche Can Help in Downtimes

    I specialize in custom decks. I switched to this niche last winter, when my backlog of general remodeling work dried up and I had no jobs on the horizon. The suburbs of New York City — where my business is located — were hit hard by the economic downturn; many GCs I knew were going out of business.

     
  • Sandler Sales Training: Is It Worth the Cost?

    For small contractors in today’s competitive market, sales skills can make the difference between struggling and prospering. Yet many contractors turn up their noses at formal sales training, viewing it as a waste of time and money. Are they right? Or is enrolling in a training program an effective...

     
  • Using Checklists to Eliminate the Punch List

    In 2001 my Atlanta remodeling company, SawHorse, launched a “zero punch” program, which sought to eliminate the final punch list on all jobs. Since we had five or six project managers on the payroll at any given time, as well as working relationships with a couple of dozen subcontractors, the...

     
  • Working the High-Rise Niche

    Our company has provided remodeling and handyman services to Chicago homeowners for the past 10 years. We started out working in single-family homes, but early on an architect hired us for a large job in a high-rise apartment building. Today, high-rise work accounts for half our volume. We work in...

     
  • Lessons From the Corporate World

    Imagine two builders. Builder No. 1 is an experienced project manager who decides to start his own business. His technical skills are finely honed, he knows how to manage a crew and schedule, and he builds homes that customers love. But a few years after hanging out his shingle he is still...

     

Legal

  • Employee Drinking on the Job

    Suppose your lead carpenter calls and says there has been an accident: One of your employees cut his finger off — and by the way, he had alcohol on his breath when it happened. What do you do? If you’re like most contractors, you fire the employee and then say to yourself, “Whew! I’m glad that’s...

     
  • Beware Hidden Payment Terms

    Earlier this year, a friend of mine had an interesting conversation with a young man who was subcontracting for a GC. The contractor owed the young man a pile of money and my friend was concerned. But the young man assured him there was nothing to worry about, because the contractor was a pal and...

     
  • Cleaning the Slate

    A short time ago, a remodeler hired me to solve a dispute he had with a customer. He had been building an addition, and when he began framing the walls he discovered that the foundation slab was out of square. The concrete sub owned up to the mistake, and at no charge to the customer fixed the...

     
  • Can a Handshake Be a Contract?

    One question I hear fairly often from builders is, “Can a contract with a client be enforced if it’s not in writing?” The short answer is yes, it can. Back in the days when I worked at the legal shark shop, we enforced unwritten contracts all the time — though we sometimes ran into problems.

     

Kitchen & Bath

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    Kitchen & Bath

    Commercial-style range for less; slate-look porcelain tiles; lightweight thinset mortar; PEX plumbing connections

     
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    Kitchen & Bath

    Kids’ activity center; faucet for vessel sinks; in-line bathroom fan; more

     

Products

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    Products

    Soft batts; fire-stopping hole sealer; efficient furnace; easy-to-program thermostat; expanding fiberglass insulation; more

     
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    Products

    Noise-muffling floor underlayment; dramatic roof windows; natural-looking composite siding; manufactured moment frame; more

     
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    Products

    Central-vac alternative; bay-front fireplace; wood-look decking; quick-dry latex paint; lighter bricks; more

     
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    Products

    Three-way outlet; rotary dimmer; wireless smoke alarm; finish for pressure-treated lumber; more

     
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    Products

    Packable water-based primer; biodegradable stripper; multi-tap transformer; high-quality wall caps; more

     

Toolbox

Backfill

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    No Lot Too Small

    Plenty of business cards say “no job too small.” Builder Dan Upton and architect Jeff Shelton could reasonably have “no lot too small” printed on theirs. Not that either of them specializes in small projects — but they did complete a house on a 20-foot-by-20-foot lot in Santa Barbara, Calif.

     
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    Welcome to Your Future

    In October 2007, JLC illustrator Tim Healey envisioned a future in which pickup trucks would be replaced by freight-hauling bicycles. Who knew then that a few intrepid builders had already made the switch?

     
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    Model Home for Sale

    Every year since 2001, home builder Cape Associates of North Eastham, Mass., has built a playhouse replica of a local historic building. Past models have included the town library, the Coast Guard station, and the famous Outermost House, which was swept off the beach during a winter storm in 1978.

     
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    Still Grinding After 200 Years

    Andy Shrake fixes windmills. Not the newfangled kilowatt-generating type, but the all-wood grain-grinding beauties built some 200 years ago. With 14 still standing on Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Rhode Island, repairing them is a full-time job.

     
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    Solar Cargo Trailer

    Paul Bias, a green builder in Arcata, Calif., frequently works on sites where it’s difficult to get temporary power. Rather than use a generator — which is loud and dirty and easy to steal — he powers his tools with energy from the sun.

     
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    JLC Extra: Solar Cargo Trailer

    This schematic shows how to wire the trailer-mounted photovoltaic power system described in July’s Backfill article.

     

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