Hurricane Sandy and The Building Industry

The reality of natural catastrophe is that First Responders can be ‘victims’ as well. So often citizens call for help is reacted to with earnest, without regard to who is on the way or what personal situation the First Responder has suffered.  These trained professionals are people too. Their home may have been destroyed. Their relatives and friends may have suffered injury, or property loss. They might have had to endure a roof top stay or had been stranded in a flooded subdivision or country road somewhere. With the infrastructure continuing to fail; sheer winds, excessive snow fall and flooding hindering rescue attempts in a catastrophe this large, most people will have to endure on their own. Even stranded First Responders! A few days now into the most devastating natural disaster of our nation, we won’t have a handle on the aftermath and cost for a long time. One thing is sure. Americans come to the aide of our countrymen. Right now able body citizens in communities across the storm path are assisting neighbors in all ways possible. Regular people. Every day people. White and blue collar folks who realize helping others is the American way. Ministry: ‘Simply making oneself available for service’. Construction people know this because they do it every day. Working and sweating in the presence of others to complete a task. The real job is the aftermath. When the storm passes. When the injured are cared for. When the dead are laid to rest. When the resources are brought to bear. The builder does not look at a disaster area in the way the public views it. It’s not a puzzle of twisted timber, wires and broken glass. We see what needs to be done. We recognize the parts and pieces. We understand the safety issues. We work with respected counterparts in all fields. And we do it without a government badge on our shoulders. Remember Katrina! How is it then, that we consider a ‘nanny state’ instead of calling upon the power of the people? I submit to all that if disasters continue and government continue to suppress the private sector, this country will stagnate into legal complacency. It’s time to Re-build America. It’s time to get things done. It’s time to empower the private sector small businesses. The workhorse of this great nation.

Turbo-Flex Your Home for Power Savings

The building industry looks at things a little different when it comes to saving energy. Building products for your home work together to ensure energy savings for the long haul. The question is; Is your home built or remodeled to save energy? We in the trades aren’t interested in how you can slap a band-aid on an issue, we want you to have the cure! So, in this blog, I will share some real energy saving, home comforting, confidence building, equity grabbing ideas you can incorporate into you house. Why wait for the authorities to call for a shutting down of power and become uncomfortable in your own home, when you can prepare for the occasion and add value to your home at the same time. In the event of a “Flex Alert”, you’ll be way ahead of the game. We will go beyond their recommendations, and give solutions to year round energy savings that are no further away than your favorite home improvement store. By the way, I know it isn’t the greatest time to spend money on your home. So figure out your priorities. Take one step at a time,  and do the things you can for the funds and the time you have available.

They say, “Adjust your thermostat”. I say, 1. Add more insulation to your attic. Most homes are under insulated. This is the single most important thing you can do to save energy. Radiant energy goes through your roof and into your home in the course of the day. A good 24 inched of insulation slows that process and allows your air conditioner to work more efficiently. In winter, that same level of insulation contains heated air space in your home, allowing your furnace to work more efficiently. 2. Change out existing single glazed windows. 3. Consider a new Energy Star efficient A/C system with a SEER rating above 13.

They say, “Unplug electronics”. I say that; And, find the other ‘Ghost Usage’. This means disconnecting extension cords and appliances that really don’t need to be used. I.e. a refrigerator or freezer in an unfinished garage. Not only is the appliance using power, but it’s working harder in summer due to the fact that the garage is super heated. Consider ANY appliance that uses electricity to generate heat. For example, try not to leave a curling iron or toaster oven on too long. Power stations to chargers should be on a switch and used only when needed. Try to get out of the habit of using the television to lull you to sleep. Especially if it is a flat screen. TV’s produce much heat and draw much power. And turn the power off on non-essential appliances when you are on vacation.

They say, “Prevent leaks”. I say, seal the envelope (of your home). Purchase new insulated exterior doors with R-factors of 14 or better. Install door sweeps and weatherstripping. Change out single glazed windows to vinyl dual glazed. One at a time if you have to. Caulk drafty siding and trim. Tape the windows on the inside where a draft stop needs be. Use receptacle insulators on exterior wall plugs. Close the damper on your fireplace and install a barrier in front of your fireplace screen. You’re air conditioner will actually pull air in from outside through your fireplace. For technology sake, research radiant window film for south and west exposed windows. This tech refracts radiant energy away from the home, allowing a cooler room in summer.

They say, ” Adjust your water heater”. I say that, and install an electric water heater timer for an electric water heater. This way, you’ll be heating water in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Effectively saving energy (and money) all year long. Install a water heater blanket if you don’t have one. If your water heater is in an unfinished garage, finish the garage. The water heater now becomes a heat source for the garage in winter ( where some do their laundry) and is more efficient all year due to the insulation from the exterior walls and ceiling.

They say, “Keep cool with ceiling fans”. I say that AND invest in a whole house fan. These are amazing. If the outside temperature in the day is 100, and the temperature at dusk is 75, your attic temperature could be as high as 140. Turning on the whole house fan will exhaust the super heat in the attic by pulling outside air in through your windows and allow the house to cool down much faster. Now you won’t have to leave the ceiling fans on all night. Saving energy!

They say, “Be smart about lighting”. They talk about CFL’s. That’s ok, but consider LED’s Much safer and usage can be creative in many ways. For instance, I use LED’s for my exterior night lighting. They’re installed in brass coach lights, stay on all night, every night at a few dollars per year. Talk to an electrical contractor for tips on lighting efficiency as it pertains to your home. The internet is a great place to learn, but all homes are unique and most contractors will come to you for the chance to bid.

Above you will notice bold font on building products and services you can take advantage of for your benefit and that of your community. And I haven’t even started. Listen to the radio show and call in with your questions and/or tips. Below you will find more suggestions for energy savings and comfort that can be fun when you know it will be a hot one.

Cook outside. BBQ like the American that you are. Take your electric coffee maker to your patio and keep the heat outside. Same for a crock pot and toaster oven. Don’t leave the refer door open. Get up early in the morning and do your laundry. It’s a great feeling to get something done before the day starts. Check your sprinkler system for broken pipes and failed sprayers. Think about your cities water pumping station and how the community at large can save energy together. Turn off your spa in summer if not in use. Use pool pumps at night. Research passive water heating for your pool/spa. Build a passive outdoor shower. Mine works great. And for those who plan to live in their homes for a long time and can make the investment, consider producing electricity at home with solar technology. Photo voltaic panels slow the meter on your home and will eventually pay back the investment. Buy thermal draperies. Clean the coils on your refrigerator and also your A/C compressor. I’ll be adding more when I think of them. Meanwhile, send a comment if you think I’ve forgotten some.

Ken

 

Understanding The Builder

Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a tutorial on how to “Understand The Builder”. Maybe that’s why so many folk either take the builder for granted, or are unlearned in the ‘Care and Proper Feeding of a Builder’. For the benefit of the listening audience on the radio program, or you the reader (who will call into the show), I’ve produced the bullit list of considerations below. Practical application of these tips may well be the salvation of your relationship with your builder. Should a person understand and work with their builder, there is a rich and rewarding bond that encompasses the entire building project. The adverse is the dark side for which Hollywood produces movies like “The Money Pit”.

Compensation: The Contractor or the builder in stages of experience

Construction Responsibilities: On site & off site

County or City Obligations:

Project Calendar:

Material Procurement: Two gentlemen go to the lumber yard. One is a seasoned builder, the other is a doctor. They are both building a patio cover. The doctor wants to ‘do it himself’. They both go to a unit of 2X8’s to select the amount of rafters they will need to complete this portion of the project. The doctor spends quite a long time looking around, as he’s unsure of what is deemed suitable. The builder, on the other hand, selects only the highest quality of lumber from the stack and is loaded and gone before the doctor has made half his selection. What is the inside story? A builder is considering 10 or more aspects of ‘lumber grading’ in mere seconds. When a builder inspects a length of wood, his mind races with a plethora of ques telling him, from experience, the best material for the project. These ques are; twists, warps, cups, crowns, bows, center cuts, mill marks, knots, grain issues, splinters, and more; all in seconds. Can you appreciate that?

Draftsmen/Architects:

Crew:

Sub Contractors:

Suppliers:

Cohesive Strategy

A National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is the formal term of the new Communications Framework mandated by the Federal Government. Cohesive Strategy is the short version. The intent is:

“The Communication Framework for A National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is targeted for use by individuals, agencies, organizations, government bodies, and interested stakeholders to use as a roadmap for effective communication and collaboration activities related to the Cohesive Strategy.”

The Goals are: ” To keep stakeholders, interested parties, and the public informed of process in the development of the Cohesive Strategy.” How will they come up with keeping the public informed? TV ads? Radio spots? A flyer in your utility bill? No, there is a better way. Construction Talk Radio!

The objective is to: “Provide stakeholders the opportunity to engage in ongoing dialog in order to be included in the process to the maximum extent possible.” Construction Talk Radio is by nature, ongoing dialog, only it is interactive with the audience. With it, anyone can use the program to communicate directly and also indirectly to wide body of constituents. Recipients need only to make contact via web sites and/or phone or conference call when disseminating information.

The Principles include: “Aggressive distribution of information will be on-going.”   Another term they should have added is the word ‘sustainable’. Where is the money going to come from to keep this aggressive distribution alive? Taxes? How bout a truly public/private initiative? Use the Building Industry (Final Responders) in a statewide network of Construction Talk Radio Shows that are paying advertising dollars to sponsor the broadcasts? Grant moneys can be used for start-up funding and air time costs during the course of an incident. 

This is only a ‘teaser’ of the Cohesive Strategy. There is a lot to read. And it gets better. Many sections of this document speaks to me in what I have already done, and what I am accomplishing on live radio at the present. To read more on the Cohesive Strategy, go here:  http://www.forestsandrangelands.gov/strategy/documents/wfec/meetings/13oct2011/reports/communicationframework20110930.pdf

To listen to a recent podcast of some of my ideas for effective communications, go here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rebuilding-america-with-ken-swanson/2012/05/21/the-wui-cohesive-strategy-conversation-continues

To listen to an interview for NPR, (National Public Radio) go here:

 

Anyone interested in creating a CTR Show for the purposes of networking the building industry for the benefit of their community, use the contact page  or call (530) 949-6574 for more information.

 

 

 

The Power Of Construction

A seasoned contractor or in certain circumstances, a builder, is a well spring of information. And I’m talking before the information age! Now we are networking the industry with computers for instantaneous research and result. Everywhere you look are ‘Green’ builders and energy related product and service. Still, can you, the white collar home owner decipher the information gleaned and apply the technologies to your home improvement project? At best, maybe. Along with all these decisions, come the building codes and standards. ADA (American Disabilities Act)  for an added instance. Natural disaster codes such as the Wild-land Urban Interface. Thermal dynamics, mechanical engineering, and solar. The very reasons for entertaining the professionals. So, how much research should the novice involve himself? Ans: Enough to understand practically and economically. In other words: Enough to make quality decisions.

With that, The Power Of Construction. The savvy building professional who keeps up with the times has a hand in all facets of people, product, and service. Why? To keep up with the demands of the business. This in addition to ‘hands on’ daily business. Think of this; The professional builder has a second nature stemming from ‘on the job experience’. The School of Hard Knocks, as we put it. Not only is he proficient in his own vocation, but must also have knowledge that invokes interaction with interrelated trades. The management of the Big Picture! It’s a huge undertaking. So how does the novice take advantage of this knowledge? The Stream of Consultation.  This is how it works.  Home owners are invited to spend a weekend in Spring, patronizing a Home & Garden Show. What a great place to speak directly to the home improvement professional or product rep. For a person wanting to build or remodel a home requires a great deal of information. All available; all necessary. But here’s what I want you to realize. Savvy builders attend National Builders Conventions and speak to hundreds of construction supply representatives. These are three day affairs. They pick up or send for, home improvement literature or product DVD’s for self educational, and networking purposes. At these builders conventions are many ‘never heard of’ products and/or services so new, the only place you will see them is at the larger trade shows. Then they share this secret information to you, Mr. Home Owner, so that you can make quality decisions!

OK. How about the virtual builder? If you qualify your personal choice for a builder, he will have a web site. A good web site! In that web site, you will find hyperlinks. Not just any hyperlinks. Pre-selected, from experience, informative and concise links that make your search easier. That’s huge! He has accounts in all the social networks and actively engages in research for your benefit. Take for example, YouTube. Does the builder have any project videos of his work and/or satisfied customers? How about his “Favorites”? Most of The ‘Owner’ Builder Favorites on YouTube are construction related; selected personally for the benefit of my audience. How would you know what videos are fictional or just hype?

To summarize; Building Industry knowledge needs to be shared. We need to consider the Power Of Construction for our past experience and future networking. Builders take somewhat for granted, the vast amount of knowledge they have achieved. There is more information than a resume will ever contain. Ask your prospective builder if he uses the networking power available. It makes for a more enjoyable building experience.

To Bid Or Not To Bid

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained”, as the saying goes. So, you have to respond to the ‘request to bid’. Sometimes the owner has done some homework, or has some experience in the building industry. The proposed project has all the keys of progress. Congratulations, you’re lucky! But that’s not the reason for this blog. We want to discuss the ‘appointment that seemed to translate into big-time remodeling’; and a six month project. So we drive to the site and meet the owners. We spend some time getting acquainted and eventually get around to talking about the building intentions. Then the bomb gets dropped. Some major snag in the proposed design, or existing structure or some incidental issue that throws a stick into the spokes. You just wasted a day! Case in point:

A refferal came in. A good sized job. I made the call and set up the appointment. I drove twenty miles to speak to a homeowner and his wife. They wanted a room addition off the master bedroom with a remodeled master bath with walk-in closet. After the usual chitter-chatter intro, we toured the home and listened to the ideas. This looks good. My contractor pal is going to love me for bringing this one in. Then the speed bump. After spending a couple hours considering the interior and new floor plan ( Cut and stack roof had a bearing load issue) I said I needed to examine the exterior for slope, soil, etc. This is what I found. The side of the house they wanted to remodel had the inlet of their septic tank exactly ten feet away from the building. (Code minimum) Going around the corner where they wanted to push out the bathroom was a three ton underfloor heat pump with rigid ducting going through the stem wall. I was bummed! There is no job here!    After spending all my time, I walked away bid-less. To build on where the folks wanted to, would mean the re-location of the septic tank and the heat pump. More money than the owners budgeted for the project. And no other location for which to accommodate their dream.

In the construction trade, the contractor or rep for the company must take all appointments. That is, if he wants to work. But many times a hangup prevents the project from even starting. Site issues, code compliance, financial problems, Wild-land Urban Interface. The list goes on. The homeowner is innocent for the most part. They need the consultation from the pro. The stark reality of bidding is that; “this is the way it has always been done”. What’s the answer? Tireless and diligent education to the masses.

It’s why I write these blogs! It’s why I do the radio show.

Want more examples of when not to bid? How bout the “House That Stinks” or “The New Hot Tub On The Existing Second Floor Deck” or one of my favorites, ” The Owner Who Wanted To Fix A Dry Rotted Leaking Flat Roof On A Square CMU House That Could Have Had Trusses Built With A New HVAC Attic Unit  (118 Degree Summers) For The Same Amount Of Money” simply hit the grey comment box to the right of the Title and ask.

Windows Have More Value Than ‘U’

Energy Efficient

Can you think of a better way to add equity to a home? Especially if the existing windows are single glazed. And if the windows are old wood, the problems compound. For starters, the antique windows hardly ever had insulation around the jambs. And in this age, the iron balances probably don’t work. Air penetration is the worst culprit of these. The window putty rots and the glazing’s vibrate in place. Wood in itself has hardly any ‘R’ value. The moral of this story is “sentimental value of saving old wood windows should be re-thought”.

Aluminum windows tend to sweat (condensate) at different times of the year. This is due to atmospheric conditions of the internal to exterior of the home. Even dual glazed. Heat and/or cold transfer through the metal extrusions with the moisture content of the inside of the house. Bottom line is the condensation from year to year causes dry rot to the window sill and framing members in the wall. Sometimes the miters at the corners begin to leak and water destroys the framing members inside the wall. Other factors, such as deteriorating stucco or siding add to the problem.  Just don’t let it become black mold. A sure indicator of a window change out job.

So; let’s get to the good stuff. Brand new windows. Many folks install there own windows. That’s fine, but consider the guarantee you get when you hire the job out to a Door & Window Contractor *. DO YOUR SHOPPING. Is the best advice any builder can give you. Don’t settle on the big box store. Some of the local glass companies can beat their price and offer a better install to boot.

Technology in fenestration offers the homeowner the best ‘bang for the buck’ in ages. Extrusions alone have advances in spades. PVC or plasticized vinyl chloride was the old way of manufacturing plastic framed windows. UPVC is the way they are made now. The ‘U’ stands for Unplasticized’. Very important, for the old frames began to ‘chalk’ in their deterioration. Not any more. Research windows with the lowest ‘U’ value for the price. Check for rebates from your city utility or manufacturer. Vinyl windows afford the first attack at energy efficiency for the home. They also add serious equity to the property. Especially in a time where everyone wants to ‘flip’ houses. It’s the very first order of business when considering a house to buy. We call it the ‘Envelope’ of the house. Keeping as much ‘conditioned’ air in the house as possible. There are all manner of upgrade in selecting windows for your home. Generally speaking, vinyl windows are for most homes in subdivisions with homes averaging 1000 sq ft, to 2500 sq ft. You will find these types of windows in much larger homes, although getting into up-scaled homes tend to be discretionary and use upper end windows such as wood with cladded exterior frames.

Retrofit windows are an interesting conversation. All homes are different. A home may be a model home and have an identical floor plan, but the orientation or upgrading over the years makes every home unique. This being said, retrofit window installation needs to be an ‘on site’ review by a qualified professional. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking this is an easy application. I personally changed out windows in a home that were installed upside down. With the weep holes at the tops of the windows. Use a window shop run by a supplier/contractor such as the company in the hyperlink.

 

*Cornerstone Door & Window is a paid Sponsor

Natural Disasters & The Building Industry

It is amazing the times we live in. Natural disasters such as tornado’s, earthquakes, floods, fires. And let’s not forget tsunamis; are taking a tremendous toll upon all nations. There must be a better way to network resources as the disasters seem to ramp up. I have advocated local talk radio as a source of dissemination of information. But with a serious twist. Use the building industry professionals to do the hosting. Why? Destruction in any form to real property has everything to with the people who developed it. The knowledge of infrastructure to the actual building of structures make the building industry a perfect fit. We just need to find individuals who would like to host air time for their regions. How do we do that? Builders Exchanges, Chambers of Commerce, Local Government. And when counties across the nation have someone networking their own communities, we would now have a nationwide disaster network. From the private sector. Just look at some of the benefits:

1. Live private sector CTR (Construction Talk Radio) is a ‘bridge’ between administration of disaster services and strategic volunteer responders. Both professional and non-professional.

2. Interaction on live CTR promotes unity

3. Interaction on live CTR promotes charity

4. Interaction on live CTR promotes awareness/education

5. Live CTR in the disaster response mode gives the professional and the non-professional a place to network information, Ie human resources, services, product, etc with the power of interactive communications.

6. Live CTR in disaster response provides longer air time for government officials to spend time to meet the needs of community bullitens and host town hall meetings.

7. Live CTR in disaster response relieves communication systems and public infrastructure from clogging phone systems and traffic jambs.

8. Live CTR in conjuction with any local builders exchange, County and city building offices, Chambers of Commerce, Insurance agencies, Red Cross and Salvation Army Chapters, Service Clubs, Ham radio, and other entities can provide community involvement on a scale unheard of.

9. Private sector live CTR doing regular business would have no cost to the government, as it is sponsored through the advertising of construction related businesses and/or investors of any US County using local people; a truly public/private initiative.

The Language of Construction

The following is an example of construction terminology as it applies to seismic and/or wind sheer zones. The exercise is only intended to make aware the complexities of construction language. In plain language, what is the builder asked to do?

FORMULA

Diaphragm sheer transfer via Simpson VGT to dbl truss bottom cords, bore T.P. Insert 5/8”X 4 ½” bolts through T.P. and attach to 4X6 D/F sel struct posts both ends @ top with Simpson HDU2’s with 5/8” X  6 1/2” bolts. Transfer to  HTT22 bottoms via SDS screws all holes and attached to SSTB20’s embed  16 5/8 ” secure to bottom #4 re-bar with tie wire suspend no less than 3” from bottom of footing. S = 48” using 3/8” 5ply 4X8 sheathing using 8d common nails 6” edge & 12”field nailing.    Nail penetration not to exceed to one ply.

 This formula is written. On a set of plans, the formula would be drawn and detailed for the builder to analyze. They would be in different pages noted in architects symbols.

One wishing to build oneself a home should be able to read and implement this formula! Just for starters, some of the materials in the formula are hidden. The builder needs to understand the formula and know the components by practical experience, lest the missing pieces cause an overrun in costs. Either in materials, or the amount of time/labor to make the installation.

 

Please use the comment box to make interjections. For contractors, elaborate on the formula, or give other examples of construction language. Call into the radio show to elaborate.

For the lay person, please ask a question to start a thread, or call into the radio show. The more professionals we have listening to the broadcast, the more practical advise can be shared to ‘Rebuild America’.

 

Ken

The Monkey Blog

Know How at American Air

What the heck is the Monkey Blog? Just a play on words to describe a condition in the building industry. It takes a stab at the ‘thoughtfulness’ of builders. You may have experienced this condition in your attic if you have a configuration of roof trusses with excess engineering. Some homes have different floor levels and ceiling lines with flat ceilings mated with vaulted ceilings.

The problem is that when you have to crawl through the trusses to do  some sort of attic work, you have to be a ‘Monkey’, in order to get through. Anyone who has worked in an attic for an extensive amount of time, can and will get extremely exhausted in the course of a day. The other point to make is the thoughtfulness (or the lack thereof) of some sub-contractors using the only means of access through the trusses (causeway) for routing building materials making the causeway almost impossible to use. So, if you are building a home, make sure the ’causeway’ is not restricted or impeded so as to make remodeling easier for the future. Don’t be a ‘Monkeys Uncle’

Send your contributions about ‘monkey’ conditions by clicking on the gray box next to the Blog Title.