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Volume 7 Issue 9“Building Confidence”September 2009



Welcome to another newsletter based on questions answered during the month.

What's New

I added another article this month about deck design. You can check it out at: Dan is also updating and fine tuning our website. Enjoy!

Ask Away!

I am in process of installing hardwood treads and risers on my entry
staircase. the top plywood riser measures 7 3/4 inches in height on the
left side, on the right it is 8 1/16 inches. The house is 30 years old,
the plywood floor sagged a little in the middle so I shimmed it up to
make it flat, there is a slight drop off from right to left over the
width of the stair case. the level bubble touches the right side of the
reference line. Where do I need to go from here? The floor and stairs
feel solid, no squeaks or excessive movement, Many thanks,

Hi John and welcome to our website,

The building code requires a maximum of 1/4" tolerance between risers for a residential staircase. You have 5/16" which is a bit too much. In construction we "cheat" a bit to make the best of a bad scenario. In your case if you can't raise the stringer to match the level of the upper floor, you can split the difference of the top riser by shimming it up an 1/8th" and the one below it as well. By doing this the difference in each riser is about an 1/8th" rather than 1/4". Before you start, just to be sure this is the best thing to do, measure each riser and see exactly how much variation there is between them and check their level. Sometimes, especially in an older house, we need to choose the lesser of two evils. Is it better to throw a tread out of level a bit rather than having the riser heights out of whack? The average person can't tell that a floor is out of level if it has a slope of less than 1/4" per foot, but can tell that a riser is 1/4" difference in height from one side to the other or from one riser to another.

Hope this helps,


Here in the desert southwest, we use a simple technique to remove
glued on mirrors.
Use a 2-3 foot longer than mirror stranded wire or solid( if you
cannot find stranded ) and 2 pieces of dowel or broom stick for
handles on both ends.
Use a sawing motion back and forth, starting for the top working
down to the bottom.
This method works well in most cases, as long as you have some room
between mirror and perpendicular walls.
Stranded wire works the best and easiest, but gets loaded with old
glue as you cut though glue, and does not damage mirror or wall
surface, as long as done with some care.
Hope this tip helps someone.
Thank you in advance, James in Sedona, AZ

Thanks, James. This question came up in our last months newsletter. Sounds like a good solution to a mirror glue onto a wall.

I am laying 6" wide by 3/4" t&g maple in a room that is 40' by 40'.
Should I start in the middle of the room or the edge? The building is
in the high desert of Wyoming, so the humidity changes are much less
than a greener climate. Max humidity is about 30-50%. Thanks!

It is better to start with the first piece about 1/2" away from the wall. If the wall is drywall and above the flooring start flush with the wall. Pick the longest, straight boards, have the tongue out. Hand nail the first couple of strips, through the tongue, to be able to get away from the wall enough to get the air nailer in position. Watch the discharge from the exhaust of the gun, it may be oily and stain the wall finish. I usually wrap a rag loosely over the exhaust to prevent this. Some guns have a swivel on the exhaust to prevent this.

The first piece is face nailed at the back, then away you go. Snap a line on the tongue edge of the first piece to get a good straight line right at the start. Don't depend on the wall being straight!

A trick, if you need to change direction, going through a doorway into another room, for example, is to rip a spline of hardwood so it will slip into the groove snugly, not too tightly. This creates a tongue so you can go in the opposite direction. Glue the spline in the first piece only and continue installing in the opposite direction.

Make sure before you start that you acclimatize the packages in the rooms where you intend to install them for 48 hours or as written on the packages. Leave them in the packages for this process.

Your baseboard should be 3/4" thick or use a shoe mold or quarter round to get past the wall gap.


I am building a 28' x 39' cottage/garage on a cement slab on a
lakefront property with a slope about 5 ft in 50 ft. Will have
to use fill to level. What is the best fill to use and how
should it be packed?

Hi and welcome to our website,

The cheapest fill to get is what they call 'pit run'. It is a sand, gravel and rock mix. It compacts not too bad. You can get this from a guy with a dump truck that has access to a gravel pit. I once had a friend of mine with a backhoe who was able to get permission from the department of highways to clean a gravel slide off the gravel road and use it for my driveway. It was close to my property, so I just paid for the backhoe time. This is a rare occurrence, but worth a checkout.

Photo of a construction plate compactor.Compaction of fill is very important when pouring concrete over it is concerned. Use a plate compactor, as shown on the left, readily available at most rental yards. Spread the fill in not over 6" layers and run over it with the compactor until the correct level is built up.

The compactor is heavy and needs two men to unload it, unless you back up to a hill and pull it off your truck.


Dave, we just have a request regarding a building on a slab on a
property with a slope. Please note that we live in Manitoba where
our winter temps get down to minus 40, not sure if this makes a

I was living in similar conditions in Williams Lake, BC and built a 24x40 shop on a slab on grade or monolithic slab. Here is a drawing:

Diagram showing slab on grade with anchor bolts and compacted sand and gravel with measurements.

I had no problem with frost in temperatures to -32F. After the first snow, I would bank the snow up against the slab for added insulation. Some jurisdictions don't allow slabs on grade, so check this out in your area. Is there any building inspections in your area?


Hi Dave, I am planning to frame and insulate my basement but I am
unsure what to do around the area where my septic pipe comes
through the wall - any suggestions? I am also unsure how to
insulate the wall that runs against my stairway. I don't want to
lose any width on my staircase if I can help it but the stairs
are up against the concrete.

Hi Nicole,

I would suggest strapping the wall with 2x4s, keeping them away from the wall 1/2" to 1" to allow air movement. Insulate with fiberglass batts R-12 3 1/2x15 or 23. You can strap the walls at 24" on center. Insulate around the pipe. Install vapor barrier, cut it neatly around the pipe and tape the poly, with red tuck tape, to the pipe.

For the stairs, you could strap it with 2x2s and use 1 1/2" styrofoam. The finished stairs should be at least 34" wide. Insulation and stair width is a bit of a compromise.

Hope this helps,


Thanks for your questions this month. Dan and I hope this newsletter gives you the confidence to do it yourself. If you need a bit of advice along the way, please checkout our website and choose a membership level at:


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