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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Drywall Tips For Mobile Homes With Wood Paneling

I know the things that I'm going to write about here sorta leaves out taping and finishing, but that part has been spelled out step-by-step all over the Net. What I am going to show you here is how to address some of the often unconsidered or unplanned challenges in drywalling an older mobile home.

Such as:

1) Ceilings
2) Doorways
3) Outlet/light switch electrical boxes
4) Trim/baseboards
5) Poorly constructed or crooked walls
6) Edge of carpet

The first place you put drywall is always the ceiling. Reason is that the walls will support the edge of the drywall on the ceiling. Old rule, work from the top down. Now, what to do about those old ceiling panels? Nothing. Put the drywall up and run 2" screws through those 1 1/2" wide strips. That is where the screws will find wood.

Note: This is the only place I will ever use drywall screws longer than 1 1/4". When you are putting a thousand screws in your walls, your chances of hitting a wire go WAY UP when using anything longer than 1 1/4". Oh yeah. Always use screws. I don't care if nails cost less. Screws good. Nails bad.

Another tip, when going over the old ceiling its best to not use drywall that's thinner than 1/2". I learned this when I got the second screw in and and a 30" x 6' piece of 3/8" broke in half while i was under it. Didn't hurt but added one more tape line to get perfect on a non-textured drywall job.

About those doorways. Did you happen to notice that the drywall is a lot thicker than paneling (yes, you can put it right on top of the panels too, but you get better results when you can find hidden potential problems and/or fire hazards)? Now the door jambs are not wide enough and the drywall will show.

Three ways to fix it:

1) The best way is when they just used paneling for the door jamb. Pull it off and put in the correct width paneling, new door stop trim and re-hang the door. In my opinion, this works best.

2) Leave the drywall cut back enough to add a strip of wood to fill the space between the trim and door jamb.

3) If only the side the door opens away from was drywalled and you just want to be done, you can just put an outside corner trim piece on it. I don't like the way it looks, this can only be done on one side and it's just not normal.

Ooops, there is a 4th way -- go buy a pre-hung door if the rough opening (RO) works.

Now for all those outlets and switches that will end up 1/2" or so under the cover. Time to carefully cut out some paneling around the box (with the power off!) it/them out 1/2". This is just another time consuming pain, but do it now because it's not going to happen after the drywall is up without tearing up your new wall. Also, if you don't the cover won't go on without a long screw, it looks bad, everyone will say you're a slacker and you'll get coal in your stocking on Christmas morning.

On to trim and baseboard. Once your drywall is up, finished, painted and doorways are done, all the trim is done just the same as any house. As with any "finish work" (stuff you see when everything is done), attention to detail as well as perfect measurements and cuts make all the difference. You always know nice work when you see it. Same goes for sloppy work. Don't plan on re-using all your baseboards, you'll find that many of them are now too short.

Poorly constructed walls (paneling must be removed). Mobile homes leave a bit to be desired at times. For instance, I have found interior walls which were not attached to the walls they ended into. You must have a good wall to wall, meaning stud in one wall nailed or screwed to a stud in the other wall. Also be sure there is a stud on both sides of an inside corner to screw the edge of the drywall to.

Bowed, bent or crooked walls (paneling must be removed). The only way to fix these walls is to use a 6' straight edge and check the studs. Hold the straight edge horizontally across the studs. First, about a foot from the top, then halfway down, then about a foot from the bottom. Any stud that's "tall" or bent into the room making a bump in the wall will need to be planed down, and any that are "low" or bent away from the room making a dip in the wall can be shimmed up with cardboard strips. The results are well worth it when you can look down a perfect laser straight wall.

One more thing before you toss up that drywall. Pull back the carpet and tack strips! I don't think I need to explain why, right?

If you take the time to do prep work, pay attention to details and resist taking any shortcuts, you will have great looking walls and not have to look at that old paneling again!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home Wrecker

While on the subject of things that destroy homes, this won't ruin your house as fast as a fire, but a simple undetected/ignored water leak can slowly rot a house right from under you.

Water leaks can be put into two groups.

Internal leaks - leaks from plumbing, shower/tub enclosures or water heaters.

External leaks - leaks from roofing, windows, siding, flashing, etc.

I'll start with internal leaks. In most cases you know about that stupid little drip under the sink in the extra bathroom. You saw it three years ago, but it wasn't that bad and you were going to fix it the next day when you had time. Right? I know, out of sight, out of mind. Now that drip has ruined the bottom of the vanity cabinet, the subfloor, flooring, a wall, some get the picture. Not to mention that bad smelling black stuff that's growing under there now!

What was a five minute job is now a days long project and a repair bill that can quickly reach into the thousands! That's okay though, call me and I'll fix it! :-)

Check for leaks often. Fix them immediately!

For homes not built on a cement slab (mobile homes are typically the worst) you'll need to check that fun space that's between the dirt and your floor for leaks, and in cold climates check for proper insulation on any exposed plumbing.

If you have a leak in a wastewater line, stop using that (lets say bathroom, for example) immediately until things are dry under there. You won't find a plumber that will work while laying in sewer mud.

While spending that quality time down under it's a good time to have a good look at everything else under your home too, like rodent populations.

Next up are external leaks. It's always a good idea to have an experienced roofer do an annual inspection of your roofing. While tile roofs are less problematic, any areas where vents or chimneys meet the tile should be checked. Any inspection should always include looking in the attic space for evidence of leaks. Insist on it!

After strong winds, have a look for anything that may have taken flight to your neighbors yard. Missing shingles and rolled roofing are pretty common here in the California High Desert. However, there are a few things that can be done when installing a new roof to make sure it stays put in the wind.

Needless to say, a roof leak can ruin everything from the sheeting (plywood) under your shingles, to your ceiling, walls, etc.

Now it's just a matter of taking a good hard look at the rest of your house for any place water can enter a wall, window or door.

It's amazing the amount of damage that can be done by something as mild as water.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Fire Danger Warning

Last night in the back of my head I was trying to decide what to write about for my first blog post, when in our local newspaper there was an article about the dangers of "zero tolerance" pre-fabricated steel fireplaces. Link to news story here. Many builders are putting them in new homes because they're cheap, fast and easy to install compared to a fireplace made of traditional brick.

The problem is ~ are you ready for this? ~ they are not intended to be used for heating your house or even burning wood!!

A number of homes have been lost to fires due to this idiotic design. My opinion is they should be outlawed. Lets face it, if a house has a fireplace, somebody will one day put a roaring fire in that thing.

My first thought was, how do you fix that without having to tear the side of the house off? The idea that came to me was to seal off the fireplace with brick, extending the brick out on the floor and install a wood burning stove.

See drawing below:

1) Existing tin fireplace
2) Be sure to close the flue
3) New woodburning stove and brick
4) Triple wall chimney pipe
5) Ceiling air space box (a must)
6) Existing chimney
7) Spark arrestor (keep this clean)

Just a quick sketch, but let me know what you think.



Hi everyone (I know you're out there). My name is Steve Nichols.

Well, I went ahead and decided to do my own blog. A bit strange for me since I type like a Neanderthal and my wife won't let me use power tools or hammers on the computer. That said, she does all my typing and website work, and I fix stuff.

I make my living doing home repairs and remodeling. This is my website -- SJN Services.

The reason and purpose of this blog is to:

1) Share my knowledge, ideas and even some goof ups with others.

2) Try to save you money on repairing or remodeling your home now and in the future.

3) Give you good, solid advice and a few giggles (usually at my expense).

I hope this will be some worthwhile reading for anyone who lives in anything more modern than a cave.