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Volume 7 Issue 12“Building Confidence”December 2009



Welcome to our newsletter about home renovation questions and to our last newsletter of 2009.

What's New

Dan has been revamping our website this past month. We have some changes for you, to be announced next month.

Ask Away!

Here are some of the questions I have received from our readers this month:

Hi Dave,
House built in 1923. Wooden stairs to 3rd floor squeek terribly. I
have my office up there and am a night owl. Our bedrood is right near
the doorway to the third floor. She works at 6:30 a.m. (I think that's a
real time!). I often work until 2-3) So, after making her coffee and
being a groggy participant in a discussion of squeeking stairs, I dive
back until the more civilized hour of 8:30.
The stairs are, I believe mortised into the side stringers and held with
wedges that have dried and loosed over many years. I can find no sign
of a center stringer or nails through the tread faces. I have driven 2
1/2" fine threaded finishing screws at an angle through the treads into
the side stringers...two or three per tread...and similarly through the
treads into the risers/kick plates. That has helped considerably,but
the bottom 5 or so bottom stars still squeal louder than my cat when he
wants out! Do you have any additional suggestions for me?
Thanks immensely

Hi Rob, Sounds like you have a squeaky set of stairs, alright. I know what my cat sounds like when she wants to get outside.

You're right about the mortised stringers and wedges being in your house's time frame. The treads rested on top of the risers at the front and supported the treads at the back. If this is the case in your house, I would suggest the following: apply some Alex Plus clear latex caulking under the risers at the back and the front. Force the caulking into the cracks and wipe any excess off with a damp rag. The clear caulking will come out white but when dry will turn clear. It is also paintable.

Hope this does the trick,


Enjoy your site and your advice. I've done some searching and haven't
found this question asked or answered yet.
I'm planning a basement renovation and am curious which is the best way
to insulate the basement. I've got a good handle on how to do it the
traditional way with 2x4 walls and batt insulation. But, i'm hearing
that spray foam insulation will do a better job and that there are 2
approaches to this:
1) spray foam the basement walls first. let dry and then build your 2x4
walls up against the spray foam. challenge here is how do I know how
far out to move the existing electrical and plumbing / water lines from
the wall? Clearly they have to be moved because you wouldn't want to
bury them in the spray foam, right?
2) build your 2x4 walls so they are 2 or 3 inches out from the basement
wall. then spray foam the gap between basement wall and the new 2x4
walls with the foam expanding to "grab" the 2x4's. I imagine you could
re-route the electrical and plumbing either before or after. Given that
I live in Saskatchewan with the infamous Regina gumbo clay, the basement
walls have to be built to "float" ... I'm worried that having the spray
foam grabbing the studs would prevent the wall from floating.
Appreciate hearing your thoughts / advice on this and let me know the
right way to do it ....
Also, there seems to be several different types of spray foam insulation
on the market now ... any thoughts on which is best?
thanks in advance.

Hi Jamie,

I am not an advocate of spray foam, unless you have lots of money. This is a professional way of doing the job. You need the expensive equipment for spraying this stuff in large amounts.

I prefer the do-it-yourself approach with the fibreglass batts between the studs:

Layout your plate line about 1" clear of the wall. This allows air movement between the 2 walls. Also place your studs on 24" centres and get the 23" wide batts. Remember that the insulation and vapour barrier makes the area warm and dry, as a team.



Thx for your reply.

Yes, I've been told spray foam is more expensive. But, I've also been
told (and Mike Holmes seems to echo) that it is a superior solution.
Probably does come down to benefit vs cost (as most things do). For
example, If the spray foam is twice as good but costs twice as much,
it's probably fair. If it ends up being only a little better but costs
5 times as much, that would seem to be a bad plan.

Any thoughts on typical price per sq foot for traditional approach vs
spray foam? I guess I'm wondering if you have an opinion on the benefit
vs cost analysis?

Note that I don't plan on doing the spray foam myself, I'd plan on
paying someone to do the spray foam. I'd then do the rest of the
basement reno.



Hi Jamie,

Here is a good article with chart showing the RSI comparisons in certain products. Does it make good sense to insulate the wall to the utmost then cut holes in it for windows, etc? My point is if you want the ultimate in wall insulation, you should go with the ultimate in window and door design. I've seen customers put in low E reno windows and the guy doesn't even replace the old jamb and insulate it properly to the wall.

I'm familiar with Mike Holmes, Doing it Right. Remember it is a TV show, not real life. He goes to the other extreme. For a contractor to build the way Mike does would cost his customers a fortune:

  • screw the studs and plates together rather than air nails
  • ceramic tile on manufactured plastic rather than Hardi board
  • loves manufactured gadgets which make money for the show or are donated for the ad value
  • attitude that the building code is not good enough
  • That hurricane proof house he built down South was impressive, but was out of reach of the average guy. I wouldn't want to get that bill.

I've seen Mike's contractors use the spray foam. If you plan on getting someone to spray the existing walls, I wouldn't worry about the electrical and plumbing. Check with the guys doing the job, but they usually just spray around and over wires and pipes.

I don't get into estimates on labour or materials, just too many variables across the country and world, for that matter. Better to talk directly to your local contractors, most will give free estimates.


your comments about Holmes on Homes is right on. After hockey the other
night the boys and I were talking and we decided Mike should take on a
real challenge like having to re-do the kitchen while still being able
to feed the family, stay with a $15k budget, while still working on your
full-time job, getting the kids to their various activities.
All while keeping the wife happy.
Yes, I'll check more with the local guys on how much to do spray foam.
I kind of figured pricing might not be a fair question to ask you but
thought I'd give it a shot.

Glad you took my comments of Mike as intended. I very seldom talk about anybody especially a TV guru, who usually has a devoted following. What Mike does is a very good thing for the people who get ripped off by corrupt contractors. What bugs me, as does Mike, is the fact that these guys get away with it. Mike, brings attention to this in his show and hopefully some of the powers to be take notice of it.

I got a contract from Canada Post when they were putting in all the new postal sub-stations in retail stores. I did a Variety store's postal outlet in my neighbourhood. All the cabinets were modules and fit together quite well. All shipped from Quebec, by the way, to me in BC. My contract was labour only, everything was supplied by this outfit in Quebec. Anyway, I finished up the job, some inspector came by and okayed my work and the little post office opened A few months later, I was approached by this inspector, asking me to go into all the outlets in Victoria, except mine and another one, and repair or finish work that was incomplete. I asked this guy why they didn't get the original contractors to finish up their own work, to be responsible for themselves? Since these contractors didn't have the agreement with Canada Post but with the small retailers, they couldn't do anything. So they paid me to go around and make it right, as Mike would say. It is a sad day when we are not held responsible for our own actions. This is why my brother and I have actually created this website, to be able to teach homeowners to be aware of how things should be done, so they won't be ripped off that easily.

Sorry for the rant, but...


Dave, I plan on reroofing my Cape Cod. I will leave the original three
tab in place. The roof is sound with no rot, etc... My question is how
do I deal with the flashing at the Chimney and also going up the shed
dormer in the back. Do I just remove the shingles close to these or what?

According to the building code, you are allowed only 3 layers of shingles on a roof, due to weight restrictions.

Now the manufacturers are saying they won't warranty their shingles unless they are on a roof deck with a layer of 15 pound roofing felt under them. Most of the re-roofing jobs you see done now always remove the first layer of shingles. The new shingles coming out today are warranted longer than the 10 or 15 years in the past. We can get fiberglass based laminated shingles lasting 40 years. Getting warranties like this tells me to do the job that the manufacturers want, that is start right back down at the roof deck. I've done it both ways, roofing over existing shingles and tearing off the old and starting back at the sheathing over the rafters or trusses. The tear off is not that big a deal, but does a much better job. If these roofs are going to last 30 or 40 years, most of us won't have to worry about re-doing it, anyway. So let's do it right the first time.

The advantages of tearing off the old shingles is being able to see the roof deck; re-nail it; replace boards if needed; replace old flashings, plumbing jacks, roof vents. The job is going to be expensive so we may as well do it right. The only added expense really to speak of is the labor and cost of getting rid of the old shingles, a small proportion of the total. The only thing I would be leery of disturbing is the flashing on the chimney that goes over the roof flashing. If this stuff is rotten, of course replace it, but it is embedded in the mortar originally by the bricklayer building the chimney. The roofer then does his part later. Installing flashing around a chimney, skylight or dormer is not too complicated if you follow procedures. As you go up the roof with your shingles, go around the chimney or dormer, as well. The front apron is easy since it goes over the top of the shingles below the chimney or dormer. Ask for a front apron which has the edge rolled over on itself to keep it stiff on the exposed edge. On the sides of the chimney or dormer we use step flashing, every row of shingles has a step flashing. Half goes under the next row of shingles, above it, and the bottom half goes over the shingle, below it. When coming to the back of the chimney or dormer, we install a back pan which is about 12" wide at the back.

Now the tricky part: The front apron extends out each side of the width of the amount the step flashing extends out from the wall. This step flashing goes over the front apron on the sides and flush with the front of the flashing.

The back apron extends out from the sides, as well, but goes over the step flashing. Hope this drawing helps explain:


I'm working on a frameless cabinet design for the church basement. We need
more storage. Just a paint grade cabinet. Planning to go with MDF
doors, just so I can router a profile on the edges to dress it up a bit.
Also thinking of using oak plywood for cabinet sides and back, but was
wondering if it could work to go with a 3/8" strip of solid on the edge
of the plywood, rather than the iron on veneer... that always seems to
be a weak point. If I glued and pin nailed the edge strip on, wouldn't
it work out ok ? Plan to use European style hinges... have a Lee Valley
boring jig coming.

Hi Richard,

Yes the wood edging works well, 1/4" is thick enough and use glue.


Crazy idea?
I've been wanting to do hardwood floor in our home... total about 800 sq
ft to do. Real hardwood in a prefinished product seems to run about
8$/sq ft. I can buy solid 15/16" oak for around $3.50 board ft., but
would need to mill the T & G. I can pick up a 3hp shaper fairly
reasonably... but wonder if it would have enough power to do the job. A
5hp unit is a big step up in price, but may be necessary to do raised
panel doors at some point... but then again, it seems lots of guys make
doors and they are usually pretty reasonable to just buy.
Do you think a 3 hp shaper would be able to do a T&G in a single pass in oak?

I would say a 3 hp router would probably do the job, but remember you would need to surface plane this stuff down on both top and bottom. Rip the boards into even widths. Remember the ends are matched, as well. Then sand the floor and finish it after. Hopefully, the grade of the rough stuff is equal to that of the prefinished and it is dry. 800 sq. ft is a lot of boards. A pro can install about 400 ft per day.


(My Scottish heritage would say, "Are you being penny wise and pound foolish?")

I have a lot of 2x2s I want to use up boxing around HVAC ductwork and
a soffit around the perimeter of a room. What is the best way to build
the frame? Should I use screws instead of nails?
Also, how big of a difference does 5/8 vs 1/2 drywall make as a sound
barrier in a basement ceiling? I am mainly worried about basement noise
going up.
Suggestion: It might be fun to do an article on how not to build things.
I worked with someone in the past who tried to be a handyman but should
probably not have. e.g. They used a circular saw to cut drywall (and
burned out the saw) and then used a circular sander to sand the drywall
joints. They also said they put in double boxes for outlets and then
decided they were too big while mudding, so they filled in half the holes
with mud. They said some of them sizzled a little bit. I also told them
once that I was putting in a kennel so they thought that would be a good
idea. So they ordered the cement and then went home to frame up the
site. When I asked how it went they said they were not ready when the
cement came so they had them just dump it in a corner and by the time
they got around to spreading it out it was already getting hard so they
were not able to get it smooth and flat.
I love your site

Hi Dale,

Thanks for the good email. We have a TV show here called Canada's Worst Handyman. It is too painful for me to watch!!

Yes, use screws to hold the 2x2s together in the corners and use drywall screws to hold the drywall to the frame. Use the drywall as you would sheathing. The drywall will actually hold the frame together in the corners, screwed into the same 2x2 from both sides. I've done this before and it works well. Just tie the 2x2s together with 3" screws enough to hold them together and the drywall will make a strong joint. Either screw on the corner bead or mud it on, don't nail it on.

There is not too much difference between 5/8 and 1/2 drywall unless you are doubling it up. The more layers of drywall the less the sound transfer. There are 2 types of sounds that we are concerned with in construction, ambient sound which comes from voices or the radio and acoustic sound that comes from slamming doors, walking on floors, etc. Acoustic sounds are lessened by layers of drywall or other dense material. Ambient sounds are muffled with fiberglass insulation. There are also acoustic strips to use to keep one surface from been directly attached to the other which helps stop sound transfer between rooms. With your air ducts, make sure the 2x2 frame is not touching the duct, itself.


This is not a question but something I thought you may be interested
in. When I designed my house I found a book that was very helpful
called "Build it Right by Ferguson. It was by an architect who had
compiled all the lessons learned over the years of things. It was a
great source for all those little details you may miss when designing a
home but bug you later. like positions of switches, alignment of
different things, etc. Since you love building and I assume a good
design, if you haven't seen the book you would probably enjoy it.

Thanks, Dale, I'll keep an eye open for it.



Hi Ron,

I guess you are talking about the side cut where the hip jack ties into the hip rafter. This angle is dependent on the slope of the roof. There 2 angles involved here, called a compound angle. The plumb cut is the unit slope/12 marked on the hip jack. The side cut is gotten from the rafter square table. Usually, it is accurate enough to use 45 degrees with the plumb cut for 4/12; 5/12; 6/12. We have the angle of plumb cuts on our rafter table:

For example: a 5/12 has a plumb cut of 22 1/2 with a side cut of 45. So on the cutoff saw select 22 1/2 on the table and 45 on the arm.


Hello and thanks, I realized the scenario with plumb-cut overhangs I
need to know how to calculate the cut for a square-cut overhang at the
hip-jack. This is where the fascia from the side jacks meets the
overhang at the hip-jack. Is there a table for square-cut scenario?

(Comment: Obviously, Ron is not a member of our web site and is the perfect example of somebody who should be. I suggested this to him with no result. With a membership a person like Ron can read all our articles about roof construction and can also read in the plans my instruction on building different roof designs.)

Hi Dave, I am building a new home and want to see if you had any
experience with tankless water heaters. Here in Texas they are not
popular. I am installing propane heat and stove.

Tankless heaters are starting to become known in my area. I've personally tried one when I was in Portugal. It was run on propane, too. It did not turn the heater on with only a dribble, but with a normal stream of water. It was great, I thought. To save water in the shower I would turn the tap off after soaping up. Instantly, the water was hot. It seems to make sense, hot water, only when you need it. I give it a definite thumbs up.

I'm surprised that in Texas the choice of gas would not be natural gas, rather than propane.


Well, that's it for another month. Dan and I hope the start of 2010 has been a good one.

I would like to follow up on Dale's suggestion of how not to build something. It would be fun to hear your comments on this subject. It could be a personal story, if you are able to laugh at yourself, or it could be a tale about a friend or relative's disaster when building something. I'll submit then in the next newsletter. Come on, let's play, we've all done something stupid for the first time!!


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"Just wanted to drop a quick line saying "Thank you" for your website! My wife and I just bought a fixer-upper and the resources we have found in your site have been invaluable. We appreciate the service that you are offering. We have used information from your site to do many things. Next on our plate is a stairway. And thanks to you, we're not going to have to pay $4000 to have it done. Keep up the great work, and keep'em coming!" NL

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