Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beer Can Smasher

The biggest machine to do something that can normally be done with no tools. Have I lost it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Block Walls

Recently my landlord decided to put up a steel carport in which to park a horse trailer. No problem, right? Turns out that the carport is too low for the trailer, so she decided to put it on a short block wall. Again, no problem. Since I was pretty well booked at that time, she hired Joe Blow Handyman to build the two walls and leave the rest for me. On paper -- good idea. In real life -- bad choice! I'll go through the things that, um...bug me on this one.

1) Layout. I had to show him how to get everything square and level. Well, at least everything is within an inch of being square. Level? Way off!

2) Footings. For the footings, he set the rebar (at least he used rebar), then in a great show of laziness he just put the concrete in dry and turned the hose on it. I would bet any amount of money that I could use a hammer and find pockets of dry concrete mix.

3) Block work. In an even bigger show of laziness (and "saving money on mortar"), the guy just set the blocks down, filled the cells with dry cement and again turned the hose on.

4) Anchor bolts. Yeah, you guessed it. He just stuck 'em in wherever he thought it would look right. Nevermind what the steel that needs to be bolted down to it requires.

Now, lucky me. I get to move a few uprights, re-drill all the holes, add steel to pick up the two end anchor bolts then adjust the length of every upright so the top will come out level and not twisted. Just another day, or two, or three...

Enjoy these pictures:

Now I will go over the right way to build a wall. Put down the shovel. First we have a little bit of layout and math to do. Determine where you want the wall and be more exact than "over there", please. Use a few wood stakes, some string and a "string level" (unless you own a transit) to get your forms for the footings straight, level and if applicable, square. It is easiest to set the string 12" above and on the outside edge of your forms, however, remember the footing will be wider than the block and get that string tight! If your string sags, so will your wall!

For a low, non-weight bearing wall, leaving 2" on each side of the block is plenty. For a taller or load-bearing wall, make then 4" or even 6" on each side. So, if 2" on each side, your footing will be 2" + block width + 2". Also, a good rule of thumb is your footing should be as deep as it is wide. Again, be sure your string is level!

If you have a target height that must be met, such as meeting an existing floor, the height of the top of the forms is critical! Blow it here and have fun trying to match the existing floor. If overall height is just higher than the dog jumps, just get it level and straight.

Now get the shovel. Dig a nice, clean ditch and set your forms 12" below the string. Once the forms are in place, recheck everything! Now is the time to find out that you goofed, not after you poured the concrete! Once everything checks out, run two rows of rebar about 2" off the dirt inside your forms. Run vertical pieces every 24" or 48" starting in the center of the first cell. Vertical pieces should "hook" under the horizontal rebar at the bottom.

When pouring the footing, the concrete should be mixed thoroughly and done in one continuous pour when possible. Trowel level with the top of the forms. It's generally a good idea to allow two days for the footing to cure. Next, re-set your string for the first row of block. The string will be exactly 8" above your footing and exactly where you want the outside edge of the block to be. Only one more reminder, get that string tight! The string is only a straight line if it is not sagging!!

Before you start dropping blocks, I'll give you a few tips regarding the mortar:

1) Don't mix more than you can use in a half hour. Anything you're not using is best left sitting in a running mixer. If it sits, it sets.

2) The consistency should be where you can set a block on a 3/4" bed of mortar and tap (not pound) the block down to get it level side to side and front to back, ending up with 3/8" of mortar left under the block.

3) The best way to keep your mortar handy and "fine tune" the consistency is to use a wet 2'x2' piece of 3/4" plywood and keep a water bottle handy. Use your trowel to "fluff up" the mortar and add small amounts of water when needed. Remember, when it sits, it sets!

4) First put down a bed of mortar to set the block in and put mortar on the end of the block that is going against the previous block in that row. Tap the block down so the top outside edge is perfectly in line with (but not quite touching) the string. Check level side to side, front to back. Strike off any excess mud!

Now, check your measurements every 8 or 10 blocks and "finish" the mortar joints so they look nice. Checking measurements is very important on your first row of block. With a wall that is 50' long (37 1/2 blocks) if you were off on your mortar joints by 3/32", that first row will be nearly 3 1/2" too long or too short. Just keep checking and adjust as needed.

A good idea for strength is to use another horizontal length of rebar in the wall. You'll notice that some blocks come with a groove from end to end for this. After the wall is completely built, pour concrete (mixed slightly loose) down all the cells in the blocks until full. Note: Any mounting bolts or straps embedded into the top of the wall should always "hook" under a horizontal run of rebar.

A little bit of closing wisdom -- never arm wrestle a professional block layer. Them boys is strong!

Here's a drawing to illustrate followed by a few pics of a good, well built block wall:

UPDATE 1/12/2010:
The AfterMath

Now that I have all the steel for the carport up let's go over all the extra BS that had to be done due to the sloppiness/laziness of the person that (for lack of a better word) built the two block walls.

Since the carport is located at the side of the garage, it was important (if only visually) to have the two roof lines end up parallel with each other, so even if the garage isn't exactly level the two structures will be in the same horizontal plane. At least to the eye, everything will look correct.

To accomplish this (since the block work has an elevation change of 4 1/2"!?!) I first found the lowest point. That's where the only one of the sixteen poles went full length. The other fifteen poles I had to cut to bring them down to that level. To give you an idea of how nuts this was, see the drawing below that shows how much was cut off of each pole:

We also decided (since Joe Blow Handyman failed to use mortar) to use block and masonry paint to seal up the walls to prevent water from getting between the blocks and freezing. If water between the blocks freezes, it will turn a wall into a stack of loose blocks. Freezing water has been used to split boulders by boring a few holes and filling them with water! If you've never used this type of paint before (like me), that stuff is thick! Thick enough, in fact, to bridge the gaps between the blocks! No worries about runs with that stuff.

Also for a finishing touch, I added some mud at the footing to give it a more finished look.

The moral of this story:

Somebody saved a day by doing sloppy/lazy work, but in doing so cost the owner approximately 3 to 4 days in extra labor and a few hundred $ in extra materials.

Do your math. Do your prep. Don't cut corners. It always costs more when you get sloppy.

Ok, enough of me being a whiney little bitch! Back to the fun stuff again tomorrow.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

How To Replace A Laminate Or Wood Floor Plank

Now you did it. While working on one project, you dropped your skill saw on your nice wood floor (see fig. 1). Not only that but your wife saw ya do it. Repositioning a throw rug or an easy chair isn't going to get you out of it this time!

Most all laminate or hardwood flooring uses a tongue & groove of one kind or another to lock all the pieces together, making the job of replacing a damaged plank a pain in the ass. First thing you need to do is remember where the heck you stored the leftover flooring after it was installed. This will buy you at least another week.

Ok, the time has come to get it done. Now get your skill saw (don't drop it!) and set the blade depth to the thickness of the flooring. Typically between 1/4" to 3/8". Cut the center of the damaged plank as close to the edge as possible without harming adjacent flooring (see fig. 2).

After the center is out, take a wood chisel and (carefully) remove the two long sides. Don't place the tip of the chisel directly between the two pieces unless you want to replace more flooring (see fig. 3). Then do the same for the ends (see fig. 4).

Make sure you get ALL of the little bits out from under the edges, then vacuum it out. Any stupid little crumb will have you beating the tar out of the new piece later when it won't quite fit.

In order for the replacement piece to go in, you will need to cut the bottom of the groove off -- one end and one side (see fig. 5). Doing this makes it possible to put the new piece in place, however, it also guarantees that it won't stay there. You will need to get a good glue for laminate floors, and glue all four sides. Don't use a glue that dries hard, the glue needs to dry and be flexible to absorb any movement in the floor without cracking.

Now goop it up and install your new piece of flooring (see fig. 6). Set some weight on it until the glue sets...but let's not use the skill saw for that!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You Have One Ugly Fireplace

Is your fireplace just bare bones ugly? Well, let's spend a few weekends and put some lipstick on that pig! To start (if you go with what I put in my illustration), you would take an angle grinder and masonry wheel to every inch of brick to remove the surface and expose the nice, clean brick that's under any grime or paint. No need to make it smooth, the roughed up surface will allow the thinset to get a real good hold. When done use a shop vac to pull all the dust off the bricks...and the rest of the house.

Set the black marble tiles on the hearth first, because mantle pieces sit on top of it. With marble the grout lines are very thin, 1/16" or so with square edges. That means you need to pay close attention to the edges and get them nice and flat. For extra fun you can bull nose the outside edges with a grinder and polishing wheels made just for this purpose. On a fireplace I would suggest using a modifier in the thinset. Buy it -- follow the instructions.

Now for the woodwork. Assuming you have a bit of experience in finish trimwork and a good compound miter saw (preferably with pre-set angles for crown moulding), I'll still try to keep stuff somewhat simple with a very classy end result. Draw a picture or print mine out for that matter. Get some of your basic measurements and head down to a home improvement wallet drainer that carries a good selection of oak trim.

Tip: If you have never cut crown moulding before, add two things to your list. First, a book on crown moulding. Second, a piece of the cheapest crown they carry. See if they have some damaged stuff. Play around with that stuff for a bit. You'll find this far less expensive than returning for more oak after you blew that cut! Thank me later.

Install a simple framework using good anchors that expand in the hole. When the bolt is tightened be sure it is level, square and secure!

Remember, I am assuming you can do nice trimwork! It's really not hard if you make exact, precise measurements, make your marks with a sharp pencil and can hit your marks when you cut. Always note the side of "the line" the blade needs to be or you just lost 1/8" and that's enough to scrap a piece of oak.

Stick it all together with a brad gun and a little wood glue, but don't put the finish on just yet!

After all the woodwork is in place, get a big pile of nice, flat rock (find it for free or buy it), mix up some thinset (with a modifier) and start putting them where they look good. After that has fully cured, a black grout applied with a grout bag looks perfect with the black marble. There are also products which will add a great shine to the stones and grout.

Now that you're done slopping mud all over, you can clean, fill nail holes and finish all that sweet looking oak.

Do you think the in-laws will notice anything different?

Too Much Time On Your Hands?

If you have truly run out of things to do, think about using this design in wood with an O.D. of 6' on the ceiling with a chandelier in the middle. That should keep ya busy for a while.


So How's That Workin' For Ya?

From time to time I come across or read about some pretty wrong headed ideas. Some of them are dumb, some are funny and some are OH MY GAWD, what were they thinking?!

Here are some good ones.

Working on a two story cabin in Wrightwood, CA that was built around 1930 and sits pretty much smack dab on the San Andreas Fault. I had a look under the house to discover that a good bit of it is built on what looked like broken chunks of concrete stacked 4' tall with NO MORTAR to hold it in place!! Looking at the front of the house, the whole place leans in on itself! How it still stands is beyond my comprehension.

My wife and I once found a house in a very rural area that had collapsed in on itself. When I gave it a quick look-over, it was pretty obvious why. The entire second story was an add on. Tile roof and all. Can you say no permit? All the walls on the lower level were 2"x4" construction. No large timber, minimal sheer paneling. Sort of like an anvil supported by toothpicks!

Recently in our local paper was another "house lost in a fire" article. But what made this one extra special was that the cause of the fire was the propane heater in the travel trailer...in the middle of the house! They had so many additions to the travel trailer that they built an entire house around (and over) it.

Just read a discussion (out of morbid curiosity) on using an arc welder to defrost frozen pipes. Um, no thanks.

A stucco guy was thinking about putting stucco over an existing (and perfectly fine) shingle roof. What? Too much free time?

As far as roofing goes, I live in an area that can get windy. At times we have gusts of 50-70 mph and dust devils that take those tin sheds right into the wild blue yonder, possibly accounting for a few UFO sightings. So why do people put on rolled roofing with a few nails and no roofing cement? That stuff makes one heck of a mess when the wind relocates it to the next town.

Another preventable roofing problem that shouldn't need to be pointed out: Now, I love nice shade trees, just keep the branches from coming into contact with the roof! Just a light breeze makes the branch rub a nice hole through the shingles, felt and at times the sheeting itself so you can see right into the attic. Trim the trees, it's cheaper!

Now this is a common one. Nice little porch for a mobile home with outdoor carpeting over plywood. Carpet gets wet, plywood rots. In a few years they get new carpet, new plywood, repeat. Just build a proper deck!

The list goes on endlessly.

Common sense (which isn't too common) would avoid any of this, but we need the entertainment. So, to all these people I say thank you!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shortest. Blog post. EVER.


Must have been one heck of a night. Your head is still foggy, your wife is still mad and the bedroom door has a big hole in it. Now you need to replace it... and buy roses.

First, measure the old one. How tall, how wide, and don't forget how thick. Once at the store, don't get one that has been pre-bored unless you live in a new house and the measurements for the hinges and door knob are the same. If not, keep reading.

Once you have the right door blank (no holes), place it into the door jamb. If it fits (but not too tight), great! If not, you need to cut it down until it does. Use a plainer for small amounts. Once you can get it in place, the easiest way to find the location of the hinges is to have something under the door that will hold it 1/8" from the top of the doorway, then mark the locations or lay the old door directly on top of the new door and use a square to duplicate the locations. Or, if you really trust yourself, you can measure everything. It's more fun and keeps me sharp!

When you use a router to cut the pickets for the hinges, be very precise. The hinge should fit snug into the pocket and just flush. When you have heating and cooling vents, be sure to leave a space under the door. When air comes into a room it has to get back out. No gaps for outside "entry" doors.

Once the door is hung on its hinges, you can mark mark the locations for the door knob and bolt. First mark the height by closing the door and marking it at the center of the strike plate (if it's still there after last night). Using a square mark where the center of the strike door knob hole will be (height then distance from edge of door). The door knob (center) will be either 1 3/8" or 1 3/4" from the edge and the hole diameter will 2 1/8". The bore for the bolt is 7/8" - 15/16".


Now let's say you live in a 1930s mountain cabin that sits on an earthquake fault. Somewhere between beer two and beer three, you notice that there isn't one thing about the door opening that is 'normal', square or straight, save that it has hinges and a door knob. I hang lots of doors in Wrightwood, CA. Old cabins, San Andreas Fault and Depression-era construction techniques. Been there.

Let's go over a few 'time consumers':

1)) You have a hollow door and is 3" or 4" too long. Note: A skill saw with a sharp blade and a blade guide works great. See below.

2)) The doorway is wider or narrower in the middle than at the top and bottom. The cure: Remove the trim from around the door so you can re-shim the problem spots. See below. Shims can be purchased for a few bucks or made out of the old door in a pinch. It's a good idea to do this before cutting the width of the door... it's not too late, is it?

3)) Door binds against door stop trim on hinged side or won't close far enough for bolt to go into hole in striker plate. Door not sitting squarely against trim. Easy fix.

1) Carefully remove trim.
2) Close door.
3) Re-attatch or replace.
4) Trim leaving 1/16" between stop and door.

Now go get some paint.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Upgrading Your Windows Can Be Complicated!

NOT. If you've been thinking of getting some new dual pane low-e windows but don't even want to think about what the cost of installation is going to add on top of those not very cheap windows, here is the solution. Do it yourself. I hate to say that...I make good money doin' this stuff.

The best part about using this method is you don't need to totally rebuild your window openings. You can if you want, but it's a lot of work to make your house fit the window. Just get a window that fits the house. Now, normally this does require that you custom order your windows. At most home improvement centers it won't add too much to the cost, but will add about 14 days until you have windows to work with. So don't drop one, ok?

To get that "perfect" size window you will need to give them the R.O. size, or "rough opening". Normally, the R.O. in new construction is the rough framed opening, but in this case it's going to be the exact size of your finished window sill. This is the R.O. size you need to order your new windows. Ok, if you're a little lost on how and why I came to measuring the window sill, it's very simple. Your new windows (frame and all) are a lot thicker than the old ones. They have to slide deeper into the opening in order to be flush on the outside.

Fast forward about two weeks...

At last you have your windows, time to get the old ones out of the way. There are three possibilities -- please take care not to break glass and cut yourself up. Wear gloves and glasses!

1) The nailing flange and screws are exposed, removal is easy.
2) Pull outside window trim to expose nailing flange and screws, again, easy!
3) You find out the siding on the house covers the nailing flange and screws...at this point I would like to apologize for you doing it yourself! But you're saving money, right?

To get at the nailing flange and screws (or nails for that matter), first take a drywall screw and a screw gun and determine where the edge of the aluminum flange is all the way around the window. Mark your line and remove any nails in the way unless you like buying saw blades. Now for the fun part. Let me tell ya, there isn't much that's more entertaining for onlookers than holding a skill saw (blade depth set to only go through siding) above your head while trying to cut a straight line in an avalanche of sawdust. Even better, on the second story! Fast forward past all the swearing.

Now the window is out. Dry fit the new window. Should be a perfect fit if everyone did their job right. If not, some "adjusting" can often be done on the window sill. To seal your new window, use a pile of silicone. No such thing as too much. Use screws to fasten the windows in place, LOTS of them. Oh, one more thing. Those little drain slots at the top of the window means it is upside down! Put the track drains down. Now all that's left is trim on the outside and seal around the edges. Then if desired, some small trim around the inside for that nice "finished" look.

Remember, large windows are heavy. Get some help! When you're done, enjoy drastically reduced heating and cooling bills. Check for tax rebates!


Okay, yeah I know this is a sliding glass door, but they're just really great big windows. :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jaw Dropping Floors

Need a new floor? Want something "different"? All it takes is imagination, patience and the knowledge that it will take a lot more time to install. It is worth it. Trust me.

On many if not all crazy hardwood floors, plan on using real wood. Don't try using anything that uses a tongue-in-groove. Also do a total glue down with a good commercial glue available at any flooring supply store. Your local flooring/carpet guy may be able to tell you where to get it. The good stuff is about $80 for 2 1/2 gallons and you will use a lot of it.

In the photographs of the @#&$*&! wood floor that I did you will notice that every stinkin' board had to be a very precise cut. Then I had to make my own t&g to have the whole thing locked together on an underlayment. Labor intensive? Can you say understatement? A glue down is way better. Now that I have saved you from a giant time consuming mistake that I made, you may send donations to...

A few quick notes:

1) When using real wood, after it is installed sand down with a floor sander and finish with a minimum of two coats of semi-gloss poly-urethane for floors.
2) When mixing wood and tile, don't hit the tile/stone with the sander or the poly-urethane...
3) Marble can be fun, it is afterall a stone that can be cut, shaped and polished with a tile saw and an angle grinder or sander!
4) On complex patterns, do your math!!
5) Take your time, do it right.

Tile? Wood? Marble? Why not all of the above on the same floor (just be sure it's all the same thickness)? Here are a few drawings and pictures to get the gray matter in your skull to start pondering. Note, if your wife sees this and out of the blue you get a new "hobby", at least when you are done you will have a truly one of a kind floor. When the first thing out of the mouths of everybody who comes over is, "Wow!! Who did your floor?", that my friends is real satisfaction!

(tile floor installed by James Loveless of Smart Floors in Phelan, California)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Drywall Repairs

I know you had intended to replace the doorstop, but by the time you remembered to do it, you discovered somebody misplaced it. Then the kids coming in at about 50mph blasted that doorknob right through your drywall. Don't get too uptight, small repairs are not difficult to do.

Let's say while sitting in your living room you notice the paint on one wall is starting to come loose, from the floor up about 2'...and there's a shower with a plumbing leak on the other side. A little more involved? Yes. Difficult? No.

With both of these repairs the most challenging part should be getting a good match for the paint and, if applicable, matching the drywall texture. Let's look at the bigger repair first.

After carefully removing the baseboard, make a nice sized hole to fix that plumbing leak. Not with a saw! Put it back, it's wet drywall. Your fingers and a utility knife will do just fine without further damage to your plumbing or to the wires leading to the outlet next to you. Always remember, lots of stuff hides in your walls.

Once that rotten leak is fixed and you're positive it won't happen again for obvious reasons, you need to cut the drywall back to the center of the first stud on each side that's beyond any wet drywall (see fig. 1). When everything is dry and anything else that's water damaged has been fixed or replaced (such as lumber or insulation, for instance), it's time to hang that new square of drywall.

Drywall comes in several types, thicknesses and sheet sizes. The most common types are the normal gypsum wall board, and mold resistant (green board) for use in areas where water or moisture may be an issue, like a bathroom. The most common sizes are 3/8", 1/2" and 5/8" thick. Sheet sizes are typically 4'x8' and 4'x12', but many stores sell 1/2 sheets (4'x4') and 1/4 sheets (4'x2'). Make sure you get the correct thickness!

Other things you will need are 1 1/4" drywall screws (longer is not better), all purpose joint compound (use joint compound -- if you use something else and it dries hard as cement, don't call me when you can't sand it), joint tape paper or mesh (explained later), a 4" putty knife, a taping knife and pan (which will save time and give better results on larger repairs, though not a must) and a drywall screw tip for your drill (this I'll also explain).

You may ask, "Why not use drywall nails instead of screws?" -- my answer, compared to screws, they suck. There are reasons you no longer see home builders and professional drywallers using nails. Let's move on.

Okay, checklist time:

Hole in wall...check
Drywall, screws, tape and mud...check

We're getting somewhere now! Be sure your new piece of drywall sits flush with nothing holding it out, and start putting screws in it. Now for a few tips: First, that drywall screw tip I mentioned earlier. This is so you can use a drill to sink the drywall screw, in a perfect world, just below the surface without breaking the paper on the drywall (see fig. 2). Put screws every 6" to 8" along the edge every 12" in the field.

Now, for the tape. Mesh tape or paper tape? They both have a reason to exist and I'll try to explain where they're supposed to be used. Mesh tape -- easy to use, stronger joint, harder to cover. Best used on factory edges of drywall sheets (see fig. 3). Paper tape -- use in corners and areas where "floating" a tape line without factory edges, needs to be very flat (see fig. 4). Not the best picture I've drawn, but as you can see the paper tape and mud are above the surface of the wall, and the mesh is used when you can keep it below the surface. You can mix it up all you want, but that's how I like to do it.

To apply mesh tape, you just stick it to the wall and put mud on it. To apply paper tape, you first put a nice "bed" of slightly thinned mud. You thin the joint compound with water, but very little. Read the instructions. Take your clean, dry paper tape and position it in the mud. Then, using your putty knife (or corner tool in corners), go from the center to the end of the tape smoothing it out while simultaneously getting the air out from under the tape and putting a thin layer of mud on top of the tape. Now you have your drywall up with the right tap and first layer of mud. Yes, first layer. You have two more to go...minimum.

Do not try to just put it on real thick. Here's why: Joint compound is what we like to call "mud". Have you ever looked at a dry lakebed with all those cracks? That's exactly what happens when it's too thick. Mud also takes a long time to dry when it's too thick. Days, in fact. Long enough for me to get pictures and post them around your neighborhood. ;) Or not...

After it has dried, you need to sand it down. This part you should pay attention to. Use a drywall sanding screen and sanding block made for it. If you don't know what I am talking about, the guy at the hardware store will. Just one medium screen will be fine. Now get to sanding. I love all the ambition to get it real smooth, but chill out! All you need to do is remove the high spots. No matter how long you sand on that low spot, it's still gonna be a low spot. Simple, I know, but people are........never mind. Now mud, sand, mud, sand until you have no low spots and no high spots.

If you have a smooth or "slick wall", the texture is easy. Just make it perfectly flat. If it's a spray on orange peel or knock down, you can get good results with those "texture-in-a-spray-can" products that are available. Some of the other texturing methods that are done by hand can be difficult to blend perfectly, even for many pros.

The best drywall repairs are never seen again. Have you ever looked at a wall and said, "Wow, look at that perfect drywall repair"? I didn't think so. It's normally more like, "Wow, I didn't know they trained monkeys to repair drywall", LOL.

Now go find some primer and matching paint so you can put the baseboard back. It's in the kids' treehouse now. Oh, that door knob hole should be no problem after this. Just remember to get that doorstop put back in place!


Pictures referenced above:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Deck Building, Finishing and Maintenance

This post should be fun. Where to start on a subject that has more designs and building techniques than NASA?

First things first, you can build a deck out of most any material. The three most common are Douglas Fir (inexpensive), Redwood (expensive) and composite decking (very expensive). A very nice deck can be built out of Douglas Fir and with proper care it will last for many years.

To get the most life out of any wood decking, each board should be treated with a good deck stain before becoming a part of the deck. While on the subject of deck stain I will tell you right now do not use paint, do not use anything like poly-urethane, do not use any finish that only coats the surface then dries like a paint. Well, you can if you like using a mountain of sandpaper next time the deck needs refinishing. When you use a deck stain (available in lots of colors, tints and even solid colors), it soaks into the wood. Then in a few years (let's say 5+ years) just power-wash and retreat. That's it. Less than a weekend! Trust me, I once sanded a very large redwood deck. That's workin'!

That brings us to using redwood. In my opinion the most stunning, jaw dropping deck is the redwood deck I just mentioned. The owner chose a red cedar tinted stain that just made the redwood color jump out at you. I've included some pictures of it below, but they cannot do it justice.

Last of the three is the composite decking. My opinion (you are reading this for my opinion, right?): It's a lot of money for a plastic looking deck. They are for the most part zero maintenance, but do change color due to age and weather according to the Trex® website. I have also heard they can be very slippery when wet, and worse in snow.

Deck Design

The design of a deck will be dictated by the following factors:

1) Purpose/expected loads
2) Space/obstacles
3) House design
4) Budget of owner
5) Creativity of designer
6) Skill of builder

Deck designs can go from an old pallet that you put your BBQ on to a vast, multi-level, hot tub holding party palace that incorporates flowing patterns into the decking.

In most cases the deck will be built so you can step out of the house and onto the deck. If the house is a mobile home, the deck must be "free standing", meaning it is not attached to the home in any way. If it's a "site built" home, a ledger can be bolted directly into the home's framing (see fig. 1A and 1B below). These drawings show the decking running perpendicular to the house. If you are going to run the decking parallel to the house, see fig. 1C below.

The next place a deck will most always connect to is the dirt, though in some cases the posts will come down to an existing cement slab like a patio. Fig. 2A and 2B below are how I prefer to address both. Note: When going to dirt make sure to dig holes at least 12" in diameter and deep enough to reach "undisturbed" soil. For soil that is sandy or somewhat loose, make your holes up to 18" in diameter. When going into a cement slab, determine the exact location (as always) and mark the location for the two bolts. These holes can be drilled slightly oversize, but should be just tight enough to make a socket and ratchet necessary. Using a hammer drill and a concrete bit, drill holes, then blow out any debris from the holes. When all your holes, bolts and post anchors are ready, put enough concrete epoxy into the holes to force any air out when thew bolts are screwed in. Work quickly and only on one post at a time.

Run joists 16" on center and use blocking every 4" to keep them straight! Use center support and/or heavy beams if appropriate (such as with a really large deck). When laying out your deck it is critical that everything be kept perfectly square and level. Also, when designing your deck, don't forget that every deck board is 5 1/2" plus 1/8" for the gap. So 5 5/8" x the number of deck boards to get your target measurement, then add one more 1/8". For instance, let's say your target is 18'. 18' divided by 5 5/8" equals 38.4. 38 boards and 39 1/8" gaps equals 19' 9 7/8". Now, you still have a 2x8 at each side or end, each 1 1/2" wide (or another 3"). 17'9" + 3" = 18' 0 7/8". As you can see, the closest you can get is 7/8" over your target.

Most of the time it is not a problem as long as you did the math before you started to build. If this part of the deck is stuck between, say, the house and the garage, that 7/8" is still not a big problem. Sometimes you can squeeze the 1/8" gaps to get all 38 boards in whole, or one board will just need to be ripped down. Don't use nails to put down your decking! They sell screws for this! Deck screws come in different colors and don't come loose. Also, pre-drill and counter sink them, using two screws per board ay each joist 1" from the edge of the board and exact center of the joist.

The biggest mistake is not checking your measurements as you go to keep yourself from getting out of square (one end of your deck board closer to your destination than the other) or the number of boards that are down cover too much or too little distance. Check your measurements every five boards at both ends and every 8' if the decking runs longer lengthwise than 8'. For instance, a great way to keep yourself in check is to mark on both sides of the deck and snap a line across the joists at 28 1/8", 56 1/4", 84 3/8" and so on. Great little spacers for the 1/8" gap are just a few 16d nails, but you already knew that.

As for the ends of the deck boards, I always like to end a board on the full width of a 2x. You can end one on half of a 2x joist and another continuing off the other half, but it is not as strong or safe as each board on its own 2x (see fig. 3). If possible, avoid deck boards all ending on the same joist. Stagger them (also shown in fig. 3). Staggering the ends of your decking looks better and is far ore effective at tying the entire deck together as an assembly.

One thing that I really frown on are hand rails that feel loose and are just waiting for a victim to lean against them. Crack, thud! Call 911!

Here is the strongest way to build them with wood. Use the posts that come up from the ground where handrails are needed, they can be spaced every 5' and go right through the decking to the top of the handrail (see fig. 4). Never build a deck and then just try to bolt handrails to the side. When you bolt the end of a 4' 4x4 to another piece of wood, then put your weight on the other end, that 4' of leverage will end up tearing the bolts out. Crack, thud (again)!

Also note that in fig.4 I tossed in a piece under the deck at a 45˚ angle. Use lots of these in both directions. Short ones, long ones, however you want to do it as long a they are secure. Triangles are great, they don't allow movement and we don;t want Aunt Edna getting sea sick on your new deck after eating BBQ pork ribs!

Back to the handrails, there are lots of way to make them. Some good, some not. For this, only one rule applies: Make them strong. Okay, two rules. The bannisters must be spaced so Aunt Edna's little crumb cruncher can't fit his/her head through them. Please look up the spacing requirements in your County. That said, I'll draw you something to give you a direction to go in (see fig. 5). Pretty basic, but sturdy, and shouldn't consume a ton of time and money. From this basic design you can dress it up, make it cost more, even spend weeks on it if you want. Please use screws and pre-drill all the holes so you don't split or weaken anything!

Now things are starting to look sweet. Got your deck, got your handrails. You walk out the sliding glass door that was 8' off the ground right out onto your new deck and...say, sure would be nice to be able get down into the backyard from here!

Okay, I guess steps would work well but that means I have to write more. Just jump! Alright, fine. We can do stairs. I'll give you the two basic designs that are most common for decks. 1, open stringer and 2, closed stringer (see fig. 6A and fig. 6B). Now if anyone wants a spiral staircase, I'll draw a rope -- just coil it up. As far as laying out even a simple set of four or five steps, things get way simpler if you have access to a construction calculator!

I just put this in off the top of my head. A 10' run with an 8' rise, then hit "stair". Now I know that the riser height is 7 3/8", the tread width is 10", the number of risers is 13 and the number of treads is 12. The stringer length is 12' 5 1/8" with an incline of 36.41˚. To be perfectly honest, having one of these calculators while designing a deck will probably pay for itself in the time and materials you save. They cost around $50. Now, if you just want to wing it on the steps just keep the treads to 10" or 11" wide and the risers 7" maximum and you'll be fine...grin.

A whole lot more could be added to this post, but any more and it would turn into a book. Some of the things I glossed over could be a bit redundant, like handrails on the stairs -- just turn and point them downhill. On some of the other things I skipped over, I figure if you want to tackle building a deck you should be able to figure out some of the additional details by using the tips above and adapting them. If not, don't start building! The rest would be, for instance, building patterns into the decking or adding things like a hot tub. With those latter two, I think I'll just bore you with a more in depth post later on.

As always, I hope this was -- at best, a big time and money saver for somebody, or at least, a moment of educational entertainment.


Images as referenced above:

Plus a couple of the beautiful refinished redwood deck I mentioned:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Some Rambling Thoughts...

...Remodeling Made Easy (win the lotto and hire someone!)

In my experience, with any remodeling job the final results depend on at least these five factors:

1) Experience in all aspects of home construction
2) Good quality tools and the skills needed to use them
3) Patience to avoid cutting corners or rushing through a job
4) Ability to be a very good problem solver
5) Planning on the hidden unexpected snags that always pop up

How many times have you seen a weekend warrior remodel that shows the typical story of great intentions, ambition and even good skills in some areas? The owner may be proud of his work, but you still know it was the owner who did it. Normally the most evident things are the ones that count, like poor drywall finishing, trim work, tile setting and doors that don't open or close correctly.

I think the best way to look at any remodeling project is to think of that room as a can of worms you're going to open with the first thing you tear out!

A few of the things that you should, shall we say, "expect" are:

1) Water damage
2) Rot
3) Rodents
4) Problems with wiring/plumbing
5) Getting the new stuff into the room (!)

As a teenager and friend and I went to the Home Base store (remember those?) and purchased a very nice shower stall to replace one that was a bit aged at his grandmother's house. We tore out the old one just to find out that the new shower stall wouldn't even fit down the hallway let alone through the bathroom door. Oooops!

Just recently after tearing out a shower/tub I spotted a 220v wire with a nice big hole burned into it from a nail that was too long and placed just right! Or would that be just wrong?!

The list of hair raising or downright puzzling problems one can come across is truly endless. It does however keep things entertaining though, and at times you've just gotta have a good laugh at what just popped up or at yourself for that matter.

A few good ones I've heard on the job:

"Hey, it looked great at the store!"

"I cut it straight but the board was crooked."

"Has anyone seen my tape measure?" (asked just after filling the cells in a block wall with cement)

Worker- "It is what it is."
Boss- "Then tear it out and make a better is."

While framing... Boss says, "Put the headers at 80" (rough opening height for doorways is 82", all doorways had to be raised)

Remodeling and building can be very demanding and frustrating, yet is one of the most rewarding things I can think of. But the best part is the totally unexpected moments when something takes a turn to the way funny stuff. Granted, it's almost always at somebody's expense, so when it's your turn don't forget to laugh at yourself. Heck, I was on a job site once where they kept a scorecard for "unintended ladder dives" on a wall!

There are those times when I am doing trim work and all the cuts turn out perfect for some reason (nobody is perfect, but we can have good days) and someone will say, "You made that look so easy!" Well, people all have different skills. Don't ask me to type, make fudge or do anything related to fashion, for instance. Btw, Stacy (my wonderful wife) wants me to add singing to the list of things I should not do. :)

People to me are fascinating. All the different lifestyles, viewpoints, opinions and expectations that people have are limitless. Every time I go to a new potential customer's home I truly have no idea what to expect. That said, most (but not all) expect a very high level of perfection with a very low level of time and money invested. Can you see the problem with that when you read it? I love doing all that perfect work, where you can look all you want and never find a flaw, but remember, I have bills to pay just like everyone else does and cannot spend a pile of time on something without being appropriately compensated for it. Plus, it makes Stacy grumpy, LOL. Now, I can and will do work of the quality level you're after and expect, but I have to charge a reasonable rate for my services.

If you come up with something where I feel I cannot meet your expectations, I will let you know. For instance, I refer a lot of the tile setting work to a good friend of mine, James Loveless who owns Smart Floors in Phelan. He has been doing it for 30+ years and is truly a master in his art.

I know this post sort of goes all over the place, but I think it lets the reader know a little more about how I feel, think and view the work I love and the people I work for and with.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Re-Roofing With Shingles

On the last post I pretty much covered rolled roofing, so naturally that brings me to a shingle roof. The best place to start with any roofing job is to take a walk...on the roof. What to look for are how many layers of roofing are already there and did you step on any "soft spots". I will almost always do a tear off and just get it over with. However if, and only if, the roof is sound (no soft spots) and has only one layer of the cheap, three tabbed shingles you can simply go right over it. If you do go over it, do it in the dead of night so your neighbors won't know you're a slacker.

If you step on a spot and hear plywood cracking while the image of landing in the kids' bedroom flash through your mind, congratulations. You found water damage. Tear off all the roofing and replace any rotten roof sheeting, or have slacker tattooed on your forehead.

Now that you finally have a sound roof you can work on, we can get to roofing. Grab up the 30 lb roofing felt and staple hammer. Again, starting on the downhill and working uphill, get the felt down with a pile of staples (the felt only needs to be kept in place until the shingles are nailed down) making sure you keep everything nice and straight. Have you noticed those nice lines on the felt? Those are handy little guides for cutting and keeping your rows of shingles straight. If you get your felt straight, it's easy to get the shingles straight. The best way to stay on target is to constantly measure from the edge of the felt/shingles to the ridge line. If you goof it up, please send pictures of that row of shingles that gets thinner as it disappears under the next row. :) After the felt is all done, get the new drip edge put up all around the edge of the place, also working downhill to uphill.

One more thing before you start grabbing those bundles of 30 year shingles. By the way, you did get the good shingles, right? If you got the cheap ones, take them back now unless you like spending time on the roof. Under the first row of shingles and on top of the drip edge, you will need a "starter strip". One can be purchases to match your shingles, you can use some matching rolled roofing cut into 10" strips or you can cut off the top of some shingles. This is to have some roofing under the side edges of the first row of shingles.

At this point you can start dropping those shingles down. A few things to keep in mind are, first row start with full shingle, second row start with half shingle. Use four nails per shingle, nailed through the thickest part of the shingle. Keep checking your distance to the ridgeline. You will thank me if you follow this one tip: On warm days, try not to walk on the shingles, you will damage them!

To cut shingles easily, lay them out in the sun and use a hook blade in a utility knife. Don't use a normal blade with the shingle on the roof unless you want to cut up your new felt. Hold the shingle in the air and pull the hook blade down through it. They cut like butter. At the end of a row, just run the shingle a little long off the edge, then after it's nailed reach under using the hook blade and trim it off 1/4" past the drip edge. Oh yeah, that first row should extend over the drip edge 1/4" also.

When you have reached the ridgeline on both sides you can cap it using pre-made ridge cap shingles, or just cut up a bunch of shingles to cap it with. Seal up around any vents and such, then watch your step on the way down.

You now have a new roof!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Permanent Cure for A Mobile Home Tin Roof

If you happen to be one of those poor souls who live in an older mobile home with an aluminum roof, I have good news. The old aluminum roofing is prone to leaks, poorly insulated, scary to walk across and has probably been patched up with every form of goo that could be found at a hardware store. Every year, more goo. I have even seen shower caulking used! Sound familiar?

My solution: what I found worked so well and was so simple everyone with an aluminum roof should just do it. The first step if to "sheet" the entire roof with 1/2" O.S.B. plywood screwed right screwed right through the old stuff to the rafters. The rafters are easy to find. They are the only firm spots on the roof and the only places you want to step on an aluminum roof! Once this is done, you will have found you can now walk without fear! Note - be sure every sheet starts and ends on a rafter! It is also wise to stagger the sheets. For instance, the first row starts with a full (8') sheet and the second row starts with a half (4') sheet. Keep your cuts nice and tight around vents.

Second step. In this example we will be using rolled roofing due to a roof that is too flat to use shingles. Now on to the roofing felt. Starting at the low side of your roof, (all roofing is installed starting at the bottom and working uphill), unroll the felt keeping it straight as possible using a staple hammer to tack it down, BUT as you go, use some roofing cement to glue the felt down. In windy areas I do a 100% glue down on the felt as well as the rolled roofing. My roofing stays put! With any roofing, remember as water goes downhill it runs off the edge of one piece of roofing onto the next. Never from one piece into the edge of the next.

Step three, after all the felt is down and your hands and shoes are sticking to everything, now we are having fun. Time to install the drip edge all the way around using roofing nails or (in windy areas) screws spaced every 12". After the drip edge is down it is best to use a "starter edge" for your rolled roofing. You can use an 8" wide strip of 30 lb felt for the leading edge of your roof. It's important that this is done well because this is where the wind wants to peel the roof off. In areas with very strong winds I will even give the O.S.B. plywood a 1 1/2" overhang and put the drip edge on last over the edge of the rolled roofing, using screws. This leaves exposed screws around the edge but it really holds the edge of the roof down.

At last, your final step - the roofing. Get out the roofing cement and the throwaway roller again. You probably noticed that you go through a lot of that goo. This is why it ends up cheaper to use shingles, but only if you have a roof that has a slope greater than 3-12.

Unroll your first few pieces of roofing and lay them in the sun. if you don't, you will have a pile of problems when your roof gets warm and the edges all wrinkle up. Ok, fine. Ask me how I know this. Live and learn. On this you just learned from mistakes made by someone else! Far less painful, isn't it? Now, again starting downhill mop out the sticky stuff (keep your feet out of it) and position your first piece with the black unsanded strip uphill. That is the nailing edge and the only place you put nails. Nail every 6"-8".

The second piece of roofing will cover the black "nail strip" and nails, so mop down the sticky stuff (I thought I told ya to keep your feet out of it) up to the edge of the sand on the first piece. Remember, the rolled roofing is primarily glued down. Any exposed nails will leak someday. No nails. Remember, exposed nails = future leaks. Now seal around the vents and get back to the ground again (if your're not glued down).

Here are some pictures and drawings to help:


Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Getting COLD!

If you haven't done so already, it's time to get some insulation on any exposed plumbing. If water lines freeze and you have to wait until it thaws out to get water from that particular spigot, consider yourself lucky. Many times when pipes freeze up the ice will split the pipe. Now it's a problem! I have even seen steel pipe and valve bodies for a hose spigot split.

The worst one that I've seen was a mobile home with no skirting and all the P.V.C. plumbing hanging under it unprotected, uninsulated and it was cold! Later that morning when the ice melted, it was spraying water in just about every direction! If you are in a mobile home, check to be sure your plumbing under it is safe. Re-check annually. Pipe insulation is not expensive and is available at any hardware store.

Any outside spigots should be wrapped all the way over the valve with only the knob/handle exposed. A plywood box with a bit of insulation placed over your spigots is a good way to add an extra layer of insurance against freezing.

Spigots that need to be available every day to water horses or other livestock should be replaced with a "frost free" spigot. The valve in this design is underground and below the frost line so it cannot freeze. When the water is turned off all the water that is above the valve drains back down, leaving everything above the valve empty.

Water pipes can also be protected using electric "heat tape" -- basically a long, flexible heating element that warms the pipes it is wrapped around. They do, however, need to be plugged in and you will most likely notice this on your next electric bill.

All this stuff can cost a bit of time and money, but so does calling a plumber to repair your pipes before you get around to insulating your plumbing.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Storage Sheds

Time for a fun project. I love designing and building custom sheds. A shed can be a big box to put stuff in or a way cool outbuilding, hobby shop or even a fully functional western style saloon with electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, you name it!

Before building a shed or having one built you need to answer a few questions:

1) What will it be used for?

2) How big of a shed do you need? Be honest! You will fill it up and the get more stuff. Funny how that works.

3) What do you want it to look like? For instance, do you want it to match the house?

4) Now the question that will make you re-answer the above questions -- how much cash do you want to put into it?

5) Are you going to have to pull a permit with the building department? I think that largely depends on how well you get along with your neighbors. Check into it for your area...there, I said it. Now, let's get back to the fun stuff.

When I design or build a shed, I like to build it like house. What I mean by this is everything gets framed at 16" on center with a bottom plate and double top plate. Why the double top plate? This helps lock the walls together.

You can also build on a cement slab or use wood framing under the shed. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Cement slabs don't move, so make sure you like its location. Wood can be moved if you need to, however wood can deteriorate or have things we don't like make a home under it.

Deterioration and rodents can be managed with a bit of thought and effort. If you do have problems with rodents, a line of block under the outside edge of the shed can make an effective barrier.

If you are worried about the wood rotting under your shed you an use pressure treated lumber and support everything off the ground using post anchors set in cement.

Or lets say you've decided what to build, made your drawings, purchased a big pile of stuff to make it happen and now your tool belt is on with beer in hand. Before you drive that first nail there is something I cannot stress enough. Make sure everything you build, part by part, is SQUARE, LEVEL and PLUMB. If you have a level, use it. If not, buy one.

Check the squareness of the floor and walls by measuring the diagonal between opposite corners. When a wall goes up, make sure it is plumb back, forward, left, right, center and not bent. On a very small shed, it's not as critical, but as they get bigger, this gets very important. If for instance you make a mistake on a floor, it will haunt you all the way up to the shingles. A mistake on a wall will make putting on the siding a royal pain. Take the time now, save twice as much later.

Another big one is, be sure your layout stays on target. What I mean is making sure the center of the first stud, joist or rafter is 16" from the outside edge of the wall, floor, etc., the center of the second stud is 32", then 48" and so on all the way down. When you put down the plywood for the floor, or put up your siding, you need to be accurate enough on layout to have the edge land on the center of that 2x so the next sheet can be nailed or screwed to the next 2x. I guess the best way I could say it is this -- you will spend far less time and energy doing a great job than you would spend trying to cover things up or fixing sloppy work. I should carve that last sentence in stone somewhere!

For the sides of your shed you have lots of choices. Logs, stucco, old boards, etc., but you will most likely put 4x8 siding sheets on it. Another tip, design your shed around 4' increments. For instance, 8'x12'. This cuts down on scrap, and scrap was good building material you paid for, right?

Back to the siding. You can get T-111 plywood, but don't. Plywood and weather do not mix. You can use the sheets of pre-primed siding that hold up well (same stuff they put on mobile homes), but if you really want the indestructible, they make siding out of cement fiberboard that comes primered and ready to paint. Cement fiberboard is impact resistant, fireproof and cannot rot or warp. About an extra $5 per sheet, but hey, you're going to have that shed around for a while, right?

When you design your shed, be sure to have enough slope on the roof to use shingles. I like to build around a 4-12 slope (drops 4" over the distance of 12" horizontally). 30 year shingles are actually cheaper than rolled roofing. Rolled roofing can be problematic, especially if you are not an experienced roofer -- I'll cover roofing another day. If you are building a shed to keep things out of the weather and dry, why drop the ball now and put a crappy roof on it?

I've included the drawing below of some basic framing techniques that can be used anything you dream up, and tossed in some pictures of a custom workshop shed I built for a customer a few years back.