1/14/2022 Notes

Leicester Mercury – Cityscape of Leicester in January 1954 from the roof of the Colleges of Art and Technology looking across houses towards Filbert Street and the power station beyond

A Visit to Milwaukee’s Last Public Drinking Well. If you want to visit, it is located in the 1700 block of East Pryor Ave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A short (3:15) video showing the construction of art crates at Mana Art Services in Chicago, Illinois.

Contemporary photos and the history of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in London, England. A temporary repair from World War II is still in place and now bears a plaque. Never underestimate the longevity of a repair!

I was just buying a couple more of these magnets for finding studs and thought, I bet some people don’t know about them! Buy a dozen, they stick to drywall screws through the finish. If you stick enough up you can ‘see’ the framing very easily. They are plastic coated and I have never left a mark using them, even when I slide them around on the wall.

True Crime Story of the Week: Lumber Poachers Foiled by Tree DNA

QA: Missing Fasteners and Flipping Insulation

We are replacing carpets in our home built in 2018 and I noticed that in one of our rooms there is a subfloor sheet right in the middle of the room that only has fasteners at the perimeter. There are no fasteners in inside of the board (all the other sheets have fasteners at the perimeter and inside the sheet spaced at the 16″ interval and spaced 12″ away from each other). Any idea why they didn’t install fasteners in the middle of this one sheet?

Simple construction error is the most likely reason why you did not find any field fasteners in one floor sheathing panel. The new guy was put in charge of screwing down the floor sheathing and got a little too caught up listening to NPR. Or they ran short on fasteners and forgot to come back to it. The inspector took a look at the other rooms and fastener spacing looked good, so only did a quick glance into the one with the problem. It happens.

Before you install the new carpet, you might as well fix the issue. Unless you are skilled with a hammer or own a framing nailer I would recommend using screws because most homeowners have a battery-operated impact driver or know where to borrow one. Here’s the rub though – the 2015 International Residential Code does not list any screws in their nailing pattern table, only nails.

We are in luck though, because the hardware company Simpson has a sheathing screw that they have put through testing with the International Code Council Evaluation Service as a sheathing nail replacement. The ICC-ES Evaluation Report for this screw is ESR-1472 (ver. 9/2020) and states “The [Simpson] WSNTL and minimum 2-inch-long [Simpson] WSC screws may be used as substitutes for the 8d and 10d common nails prescribed…in Items 30 through 32…of 2018 and 2015 IRC Table R602.3(1) (similar in earlier code editions) for the attachment of subflooring to framing; provided the penetration into the framing members is a minimum of 1-3/8 inches”. Items 30-32 are the floor sheathing lines of the IRC table.

The Simpson WSNTL screw is available as a loose screw, perfect for homeowners and repairs. The Simpson WSC screw is a collated screw used with a dedicated tool. If neither of these are available in your area, take a look at the specification for these screws and you should be able to identify a local alternative.

One final note – the edges of the floor sheathing where it rests on the joists should have a six inch fastener spacing, not twelve inch. It is not the end of the world, but if you have some screws left over you might want to sink them on the edges to create a six inch spacing. This pattern is found in the 2015 International Residential Code Table 602.3(1) which states “spacing of fasteners on floor sheathing panel edges applies to panel edges supported by framing members” which, in this case, is a six inch spacing. Your local code may vary.

My inspector noted that some of the insulation in my attic was installed upside down. It is fiberglass insulation with paper on one side installed in the floor of the attic. The paper is on the top side of the insulation. Can I just flip the insulation over to fix this issue?

This fiberglass insulation is known as ‘kraft-faced’ fiberglass insulation. It has paper attached to one side of the fiberglass to aid installation (this paper can be fastened to framing members to keep the insulation in place) while also acting as a vapor retarder which helps limit the amount of moisture migrating into the wall or ceiling.

This kraft paper layer should be installed on the ‘warm in winter’ side of the wall or ceiling because, in heating climates (Climate Zones 5-8 and Marine 4), that is where you want to have the vapor retarder (IRC2015 R702.7). You have warm air inside the house full of moisture and you want to prevent it from getting into your wall or ceiling. Kraft paper installed on the ‘cold in winter’ side just isn’t being given the opportunity to perform properly. This is why your inspector probably flagged the insulation as being installed upside down.

If the insulation can be easily flipped, go for it. It can only help the performance of the attic floor from a vapor perspective. You will also be protecting the kraft paper which, when facing into the open attic, can pose a danger if there is a house fire. It’s just a layer of paper, but minimizing fire risk is a cumulative project. You won’t find this fire risk directly called out in building codes, it is usually part of the manufacturer’s installation guidelines. For more details, check out the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA)’s publication BI402 which covers installation techniques for fiberglass insulation. It recommends that the kraft paper be installed with substantial contact against drywall.

If the insulation cannot easily be flipped you can usually tear the kraft paper off from the visible side pretty easily. This won’t fix your vapor retarder, but it will address the fire risk.

9/24/2020 Notes

Schwebebahn by Sascha Kohlman licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

A programmer posts about his house build issues and what he would change about the process. Reading the list of issues, there are a ton of overlapping causes – bad material selections, bad specifications, bad record keeping, bad site hygiene, and (of course) bad work. Despite this spiderweb of root causes, it all boils down to a an unacceptable result. Why did the programmer choose to work with this contractor and his subcontractors? Figuring that out would reveal a lot.

1902 Footage and 1972 Footage of the Wuppertal Suspension Railway. Maybe ‘they don’t build them like they used to’ should rather be ‘they don’t maintain them like they used to.’

Something that gets missed a bit in new building design is the concept of ‘the next occupant’ – what will they understand or not understand? Here is a good example from MIT where a previous office occupant installed a custom window opener in the pursuit of automated comfort, the current occupant figured out a work around, and now is trying to document the situation for future occupants.

Here is another one over at Green Building Advisor, Revisiting the Sunrise House in Fairbanks which details the second owner of Thorsten Chlupp’s experimental house. It’s behind a paywall unfortunately, but if you have the means GBA is really worth the subscription.

Kickstarter of the Week: Tiny Treehouses is a set of laser cut, intricate house models to liven up your house plant displays.

9/10/2020 Notes

From 13.31 by Varya Kozkevnikova and Lera Pavlikova

Factory O/S has announced an opening date of September 14, 2020 for their second modular fabrication facility on the west coast. They are heavily supported by some of the California tech giants.

Always nice when a play by play building blog pops up, here is one for a home in Vermont that just hit the septic install stage. Here’s the first post which has a few images of the design.

Britain has an issue with cars parking on sidewalks. Weirdly, one of the few urban infrastructure issues the USA doesn’t seem to have.

Journal of Light Construction was the source for this video which shows the use of a portable fog machine to illustrate air leakage. The builder did a nice job, the issues discovered were generally related to the double-hung windows and slider patio door – a known issue with those types of doors/windows.

Photo Series of the Week: Varya Kozhevnikova and her daughter Lera Pavlikova shot a photo series titled 13.31 starring themselves exploring their relationship as teenage daughter and (former) teenage mother.

7/23/2020 Notes

Japanese student serving lunch. Picture by AHLN licensed CC BY 2.0

Chad Kohalyk made a stressful move to Japan this spring which means we now get some cool insights into the Canadian experience with Japanese daily life. Recently he wrote about his children’s school and how they establish ownership of the school environment among both the students and the student’s parents. He also links to this short video on the subject.

Unity Homes has posted a new video tour of their Zum model home. It’s more of a sales pitch than a detailed discussion of design and construction elements, but it’s still a nice video for those of us who aren’t in the Northeast and can’t make a visit. The audio on the interior shots has a lot of echo despite all rooms being completely furnished – I hope that’s just a recording artifact.

Painted bicycle lanes always seemed like a municipal sisyphean task – the rate of wear is just so high that it never stays in good condition. I was really impressed by this look at colored concrete color stability, almost a decade and it still looks great.

When I was planning to install an area of fenced yard for the dogs to run around in, I had to decide whether to put it in the backyard or front yard of my home – both areas being similar in size. I ended up putting it in the front yard, since I figured that would give me an excuse to be out front where I can interact with neighbors and people-watch. I see a lot of like-minded spirits in this Curbed article on ‘porch culture’.

Stones of the Week: The Dinnie Stones are two lifting stones that live in Potarch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Originally installed in the 1830’s as counterweights for bridge maintenance with a combined weight of more than 700 pounds. Looking at the official website, attempts to lift them really took off starting in the 1970’s. They are featured in the documentary Stoneland.

6/11/2020 Notes

One of the buildings that make up The Fuggerei. Picture by Allie_Caulfield licensed CC BY 2.0

The Fuggerei is the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use, serving a community of “needy Catholic Augsburgers” since the 1500’s. It is located in Augsburg, Germany and there is a museum onsite. The best overview I found is this Smithsonian Magazine article from last year.

Back in late April Fine Homebuilding hosted a webinar on double-stud walls featuring Dan Kolbert and Ben Bogie of Kolbert Building out of Southern Maine. The recording is available to watch here. Video quality is a little rough, but stick it on in the background – it’s always helpful to hear from the people who actually have to build the assemblies.

A short GIF of an old wood veneer cutting machine.

A brick wall rippling effect is achieved using augmented vision software to allow the precise placement of each individual brick.

Forced Landing of the Week: Engine failure leads to a forced landing of an antique P-51 in this video. What’s fantastic is the analysis of the forced landing that is included in a separate interview segment between the pilot Mark Levy and Richard McSpadden of the AOPA Air Safety Institute. There is a lot to glean from the analysis regarding how to manage your own head space while evaluating and reacting to difficult situations.

6/4/2020 Notes

Western Trailer Company of Los Angeles has also undertaken the construction of prefabricated houses (1942). Known as the “Westcraft home,” it is the conception of James H. Thomas Richards, designer. From the Library of Congress

I’m all for prefab construction elements, but often find that prefab houses are a poor fit for many applications – too rigid in their limitations relating to module size and finishes. A great exception are prefabricated Accessory Dwelling Units – they largely can fit into the size constrains of one transportable prefabricated module and the finishes are driven (in many cases) by affordability/relation to a rental balance sheet so light-weight, flexible finishes are more acceptable. Here’s a good article on Roger and Martha’s prefabricated ADU as well as an architect’s approach to the space. Here is Wolf Industries working in the niche up in the Pacific Northwest.

Charles Buell digs into the Western States Roofing Contractors Association‘s view on dimensional asphalt shingles on roof slopes below 3.5/12. In brief – allowed by code and manufacturers but not recommended by (at least one) industry association. Here is their technical bulletin on the subject which I have rehosted.

You know, I’ve never thought about the sex of the trees around my house, but now I’m going to start thinking about it.

Allison Bailes once again knocking it out of the park with an introduction to understanding filter ratings. The lesson: it’s all about the MERV rating.

Club of the Week: To become a member of the Caterpillar Club you need to (successfully) use a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. Related clubs: The Goldfish Club for disable aircraft survivors who survive exposure at sea and the Martin-Baker Ejection Tie Club for those who survive an ejector seat launch (not sure the aircraft has to be disabled for this one, ejection sheets are enough of a gamble already). I first heard of the Martin-Baker club in relation to whether the tourist in this story would receive one.

5/28/2020 Notes

parking ticket machine covered in delft tiles
Unusual application of Delft Tiles. Photo by Metro Centric CC BY 2.0

Put the Royal Delft Museum on your travel wishlist. Here’s an article on the history of this particular tile craft.

Lost Art profiled Freddy Roman this week, his personal blog can be found here. To my surprise, the most recent entry was a review of a weatherizing tool that I’ve been wondering about, great to see he has had good results with it! You can find the tool for sale through Conservation Technologies (they call it their ‘Cornerseal System’).

A video on How the Staircase Made the Victorians Suffer. Not the fastest paced exploration, but worth it for the visual demonstration in the second half of how precarious a poorly designed staircase can be – one slip and you’re falling quite a ways.

Structure Tech released their internal training video on water intrusion. Looks, it’s an hour and a half which is a stretch, but if you can stick it in the background it’s an incredible montage of poor exterior overhang/valley/trim details. Coming from New England, home of the zero overhang cape, it shines a searing light on what a bad design detail that is.

Steam Engine of the Week: A 1915 Erie Steam Shovel Type A demonstration – I’m sure I’m not the only one with childhood memories of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. In retrospect, reads a bit odd once you realize the steam shovel is a sentient creature trapped for eternity in a basement.

5/21/2020 Notes

The Interior of Orbelian’s Caravanserai. CC BY-SA 3.0 WOWARMENIA

Orbelian’s Caravanserai is a highway rest area from the 1332 that you can still visit today just off the M10 in Armenia.

Over at Instagram, a curated gallery of the best property photos from The Netherlands.

I meant to post a link to this in January when it went into effect – but better late than never. Reuben Saltzman over at Structure Tech gives the details on the new Truth in Sale of Housing Energy Disclosure Report in Minneapolis – it involves popping a hole to check installed insulation in homes built before 1980.

The BBC has collected a gallery/set of story vinettes about residents of Trellick Tower, an infamous housing tower designed by Erno Goldfinger (yes, that Goldfinger).

Oscar Winning Short Film of the Week: The Neighbor’s Window – just a tight 20 minutes strongly carried by Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller.

5/14/2020 Notes

Dumbarton Court from the Tower Block Database. Image licensed CC Attribution by Professor Miles Glendinning

Tower Block at The University of Edinburgh is a database “emphasis[ing] the social and architectural importance of tower blocks, and to frame multi-storey social housing as a coherent and accessible nationwide heritage”. Looks like the easiest way to browse is to navigate to the search page and scroll down for a full list. Digging into the website you’ll also find a PDF of Tower Block by Miles Glendinning and Stefan Muthesius available for download.

Reuben Saltzman writing on Stucco-Covered Chimneys over at Structure Tech. Chimneys with multiple construction layers (brick and stucco, veneer stone over framing) are a source of headaches – difficult to diagnose and yet a real threat to life and property.

RetroRenovation clued us in that the Daltile Mosaic Designer is back up and running. It’s a need web tool for the layout of mosaic details – I’m curious what the process looks like once you ‘submit’. It looks like perhaps it loops in a local Daltile distributor at that point.

Nancy Hiller has been running a series of interviews over at Lost Art Press (all excellent!), with the most unique being an interview with the creator of Barbie Woodshop, an incredible miniature woodshop project you can follow on instagram.

Radiation Source of the Week: Rolling Stone published America’s Radioactive Secret documenting the growing radiation hazard presented by an oil and gas waste product called ‘brine’ which can be contaminated with radium radionuclides. An incredible health and safety risk and, like most health and safety risks, one borne by the lower paid workers in the industry and downplayed by the highest paid.

Radium in [marcellus shale] brine can average around 9,300 picocuries per liter, but has been recorded as high as 28,500. “If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down,” says Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist who spent 15 years studying radioactivity with the Department of Energy. “And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail.”