Subscribe/unsubscribe to this free newsletter from Dave's Shop. (You don't need to be a member of to receive these free newsletters, but only members can access our library of earlier newsletters.)

Select a newsletter to view:

Volume 5 Issue 1“Building Confidence”January 2007



Welcome to our new subscribers as well as those who have been with us for a while. I hope all is well with you and your renovations and that our website helps in your projects.

Ask Away!

Here are some of the questions I have answered this past month.


I'm in the process of finishing my new house and have a question.
I have to hang doors, put on the base and door trim and lay a
pre-finished hardwood floor. What should the order be?
The sheetrock is up, spackled and painted. Thanks in advance for
your advice. Your site is awesome.


Usually, we hang the doors next. When I built my house, I chose to hang the doors after the flooring was on. With hardwood we usually cut the jamb off the bottom over the hardwood area. This allows the hardwood to be installed under the jamb (allow 1/2"clearance to jack stud or cripple). I figured if I install the jambs after the hardwood and lino and carpets it would make a neater finish around the jamb than cutting the lino against the jambs and having the lino curl up, which it eventually does. The only negative aspect of this procedure is that if there is a transition between the hall and the room, the door jamb has to be scribed to fit the different elevations, (which is no big deal).

The different flooring joins under the center of the door. Without the jamb in place, you have to be sure that the joint is under the center of the door. So be aware which way the door will swing. The positive aspect is that the hardwood and carpet and lino goes under the jamb giving a nicer finish. The jamb bottom may have to be cut off to allow fitting the jamb on top of hardwood. Check this out first. After the jambs are installed, the transition strips can be installed, tight to the jambs. The casing goes on next, then the base against the casing (door trim).


I'm installing ceramic tile in the front entrance of
my 1983 townhouse. The existing floor is cement covered
with cushion flooring.
Can an adhesive be used to bond the sub floor (two sheets
of 5/8" plywood) to the cushion floor? If not, what would
you suggest as an option for the foundation of the subfloor?


The best surface for ceramic is concrete. Try to remove the vinyl flooring by tearing off the thin top sheet of vinyl. Using the hotest water you can stand, soak this paper layer and scrap it off down to the concrete. If uneven, level out with floor leveling compound for concrete surfaces. Then apply the tile as usual.

Let me know how you make out.


Hi Dave,

Ginny here. I have a Honeywell Magic Stat 3000 programmable
thermostat that won't shut off at the set temperature.
I can turn the furnace on and off with the on/off switch.
I changed the battery, that didn't work. I fiddled with the
potentiometer to no avail. If I manually lower the set temperature,
the furnace does shut off. It's almost as if the thermostat
doesn't know it hit target.

I also notice now that I am unable to set the time, so I'd
appreciate your thoughts on whether I have a furnace problem
or if I need a new thermostat. The Heil high-efficiency furnace
was installed in 1998, the thermostat is probably circa 1993.

As usual, I appreciate your input. Any plans to do a how-to on
vinyl siding? I have a small lakeside cottage that needs it and
would like to try it myself.

Hope all is well with you. Thanks for your site. We girls really
love it!!!


Hi Ginny,

This is not my field of expertise. It sounds like the thermostat is faulty. I would suggest calling up your furnace service company and see what they say. I tried to search the web for a manual on this to no avail. Sorry!

I'll put a vinyl siding article on the top of my To-Do List. Vinyl siding is very easy to install, the tricky part is the trim around windows and doors. I'm in the middle of my year-end bookwork, so give me a couple of weeks. Remind me again, if I forget!! We are still in winter here, the snow is slowly melting though, until the next dump!

Thanks for the support. I raised three daughters and always encouraged them to do anything they set their mind to, which they did. My middle girl helped me frame our house, she went on to build a kids playhouse in her yard - gable roof and all, built steps down from her back door that would complicate me. My youngest girl helped me roof the house and side our duplex. The eldest girl was off and married at that time.



I want to build a breakfast bar and install it permanently
to this wall. Can you help with any ideas? What would you
recommend for the width and the best way to fasten it to
the wall? I am planning on using pendant lights. What would
be the proper distance from the bar to the lights?
The image isn't to exact scale. Thanks for any help you can

Hi Ken,

I would make the bar width 24". The bar should be supported on the wall with a ledger under it with angle brackets of wood down to the wall at 48" centers to match the studs. The ledger and supports should be screwed and glued to the bar top before the laminate is applied.

Diagram of kitchen bar support from end view, front view and underside with measurements.

The lights height could be varied according to their size and intensity, maybe 3' above the bar. This is not a hard and fast measurement.

Hope this helps.


Hi Dave,
My wife and I are about to embark on our biggest house improvement.
So I will start with a general description and a general question.
In March 2007, we are lifting our 1922 wood siding bungalow 4 feet
and adding 2 feet of historically appropriate architectural block
(salvidged from our neighborhood). Upon "dropping the house", we
will have an 8
foot clearance in our basement. The front and back porches will
land on new footers. We will then finish off the basement.
We have a fairly dry basement and a good working French Drain
system (Ddry).
Any suggestions for what else we should do before finishing off
the basement? (SOME IDEAS: reversing fan system instead of running
a dehumidier, pump insullation up to the upper floor walls,
reinforce the block walls with steel every 5 feet, insulate the
basement ceiling)

Hi Erik,

Good project! Where is this house located and the floor area?

I don't like the french drain idea. You have the opportunity of putting in a proper perimeter drainage system, with pipes, now with the excavation open. Remember to coat the buried concrete block with a foundation asphaltic seal, before backfill. Steel in the block is good, but it should be embedded in a concrete mix rather than just mortar. A concrete beam on the top layer of block is also good, with anchor bolts embedded for the sill plate. Check with the brick layer regarding this. Before pouring the basement slab, be sure the fill is well compacted with sand and gravel and 6 mil vapor barrier is laid down over this. The concrete is then poured on top of the poly. If the walls are constructed in the balloon framing method you can blow insulation up into the wall, if there is no firestops. If the house was built using the Western framing method, you can't since the floor is over the wall. The walls should be insulated and the concrete block could be filled with insulation, good, or strapped and insulated, with vapor barrier is better. The floor should only be insulated for sound value rather than heat. Any heat value in the basement would help heat the upstairs, if it is not insulated.

Well, I can't think of anything to add, other than to ask me anything as you progress.


Hi Dave,

Thanks for your response.

Yes, I agree on the perimeter drain. In fact, I used the
wrong term in my email. We have an existing perimeter
drainage system (company name = B Dry) that we are extremely
happy with. It covers all 4 internal basement walls and feeds
to a sump pump in one corner and has an overflow drain in the
opposite corner (in case we have any water collecting on the
basement foundation floor). We have had no substantial
basement water issues since the installation of the perimeter
drain system.

Because of our great basement concrete floor and the great
perimeter drain, we do not have plans to pour a new foundation
or disturb any existing block walls. We will modify the walls
for added support (steel beams) and break out some block to
bring temporary steel beams under the house for lifting but
we don't have plans to rebuild foundation or walls except for
the areas of damage that we introduce (in the lifting process).

Our house is in Arlington VA, USA. The floor area of our
bungalow basement is 28.3 feet by 38.4 feet.

Suggestion 1) Steel Beams
So if I understand your suggestion with the steel beams, they
should be placed within the block and then concrete poured to
"set" them in place. I am paying $1,500 for a structural
engineer to give me detailed 11 x 17 inch plans that should
give more specifics. We'll see him next week. He has a
reputation for over engineering but that is fine. I'd rather
spend the money on a good foundation than pay later in life.
The house is from 1922, I am amazed it has "settled" so
gracefully (very few wall cracks, sloping floors or windows
that don't open).

Suggestion 2) concrete beam on the top layer of block I
understand your suggestion although I have never seen a
concrete beam. But what does this provide me besides a more
stable resting of the house structure? I am in Arlington so
unlike when I lived in Seattle I am not worried about
earthquakes. I think I will need some guidance on this since
I'm worried the block guys are going to just do what is easiest.

Suggestion 3) wall insulation and block insulation I will have
to get back to you on the balloon framing used on our house.
I know my wife said whatever we have is NOT fire retardant.
So I suspect that means there are no firestops. During
conversations with the house lifting expert (he is awesome
with great local references), it was pointed out that we have
the "older" construction method. There is a piece of paper in
a folder at home that has the framing written on it.

With regards to the block insulation, how and what do you use?
I know that the perimeter drain is designed to allow the water
to drain through holes in the lower row of block. This drainage
goes into an internal "channel" below the basement floor.
I am afraid of putting the wrong kind of insulation into the
block that may interfere with the design of the perimeter drain.
I would need to know what type of insulation could still allow
the blocks to drain into the perimeter drain. The insulation
would also be getting wet as water drains through the pourous
1922 block and into the "channels" of the block.
During rain storms, I believe the water builds up in the bottom
row of block before pouring into deliberately drilled periodic
holes that the perimeter drain company has put into the block
as part of their design/installation. Any suggestions on
insulation type for putting in the block?

Suggestion 4) 6 mil vapor barrier on floor
Although we are not pouring a new basement floor we are still
"shopping around" for a floor solution. The majority of basement
will be finished with Berber carpeting but a small workroom will
be tile like or glue down vinyl flooring. The existing unfinished
concrete floor is great but cold and may be a little wet. I say a
little wet because, I can store a cardboard box on it and have
little effect on the box. But I wouldn't disregard it as it is
probably the old original concrete and slightly pourous.
Any suggestions on floor preparation that won't cause us to loose
too much head room?

I agree with the sound insulation. I may just save the money and
tell the kids to turn the TV down when they are playing in the


Hi Erik,

I'm glad you have a good perimeter drain. A french drain is just a ditch without a pipe only contains drain rock.

When I was referring to steel beams I meant re-bar steel. It is a concrete beam with re-bar in a vertical column inside the concrete block. This is a column, rather than beam. The beam requires the re-bar to be placed in what they call a beam block on the top row. It has no webs, just a U shaped block for the re-bar to lay in. Both the beam and the column tie the block together. This is used mainly on commercial buildings. Your engineer can talk to you about the need for it or not. You are right, I live on Vancouver Island, just North of Seattle, we have been told for years to expect the big one (earthquake).

Firestops are 2x4 or 2x6 blocks, depending on the wall framing, nailed between the studs at floor levels to prevent a fire from racing up a wall into the next floor. If these are present, you won't be able to get the blown insulation past them. In Western framing the floor sits on top of the wall, rather than up against the studs, forming its own firestop. The wall is then continued on top of the floor.

Your drainage inside the concrete block is new to me. I'm aware of weep holes between a brick face and a wood framed wall, but not a water channel inside a block wall. Internal insulation will not work in this case. The internal insulation is a perlite or vermiculite poured into the block. It consists of small granules of expanded rock. The best way to insulate a concrete or block wall, in my opinion, is to build a 2x4 wall in front of the concrete or block wall, leaving a 1"airspace between the two. Insulate the wall with standard fiberglass insulation with vapor barrier applied and drywall for the finish.

Yes, if the slab is already poured you can't put poly under it. There are ways to stop water from permeating a wet slab. The problem is to determine if the correction is worth the expense. A simple way to see how wet a slab is is to tape a 2'x2' piece of poly onto the slab and come back 24 hours later to see if there is any moisture condensed inside the poly. If not, don't worry about it.

Other than carpet for a basement floor there is ceramic tile, good but cold to the feet, wood laminated or plastic laminate floating floor, with styrofoam sheet under it.


Thanks Dave.

Yes, you are correct again about our drainage system.
"Weep holes" are a better description of how the system works.
Here is a url with the company and a good diagram of it
( ).

I confirmed it, we have "balloon construction". Our contractor
said anything prior to 1950 (our bungalow is 1922) in the US
pretty much uses it. So I would think we could shoot some
insulation into the walls. I wonder if I should hire an
insulation contractor to do it.

Until next time.


Hi Eric,

Yes, to get the insulation in that far, you need the equipment of the pros.

Good luck.


Hello Dave,

I don't think I've asked you this question before
(I searched my emails). If I did, I apologize.

I'm having trouble with splitting wood when using my
Hitachi NR83A2 full round head framing nailer.
There are 2 scenarios.

1) When building a scaffold on the side of my 16' X 16'
storage building, I was using 2X4s, one at 90 degrees
to the studs, and one at 45 degrees as the support.
I nailed through the 45 degree board, with the nail
perpendicular to the board, approx 1 to 2" from the end.
I installed 6 of these on each side, and split about
8 of them. I used 3-1/4" X .131 galvanized nails.

2) I'm installing 1 X 6 fascia board underneath the roof
decking (which overhangs approx 6" from the end rafters).
I'm using 2-1/2" X .113 galvanized nails.
Out of about 20 nails, installed so far, I split the
fascia approx 1/3 of the time.

My nailer is rated for 70-120psi. I set my compressor
regulator at around 70-80psi.

What am I doing wrong?


Hi Larry,

You didn't ask this question before. It is a tough one to answer, though. I would say you are not doing anything wrong. I get the sense that the wood you are using is very dry. When we frame houses we use wood that has a water content of about 19%. We don't have any problems with splitting the wood, except on the very end of a piece of lumber. I know this is more of a problem the drier the wood gets.

Your pressure is set right when the nail will sink in ever so slightly. You want to set it for a happy medium where some of the backing wood is drier or harder than others. If you are nailing sheathing, for example, the pressure may drop and you will notice that the nails are not being driven in completely, after a continuous string of nailing without a break. This is normal, depending on the size and air tank capacity of your compressor. To combat this, you can add another 50' or 100' of air line which gives you more storage of air, very inexpensively.

Other than this, I can't think of anything more to say to help. Maybe run this by your nail supplier, you may be using too heavy a gauge of nail for the purpose.


Well, that completes another newsletter for this month. Hope you find an answer to your project problem. If not send me an email and I'll try to help you out as well.


< previous next >