Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Distant Early Warning

The photo here does not directly relate to what this post is about but is more of just an example to make my point about something. Now, I don't want this post to come off as pissy or elitist or some other such; it's just my thoughts on some stuff that has bothered me for a while. Of course, I know I'm preaching to the choir, so to speak, on this subject because all of my readers are smart and savvy enough to know what I'm fixin' to tell you but just in case....
Over the years of blogging I have come across a number of other blogs on building, as you would expect. Mostly it's regular people building their own home or barns or such. And that is great. Ya'll know that I try to encourage everyone to try their hand at building, especially women, for a variety on reasons. And in the course of reading some of these blogs I have noticed some of them have quite a few readers. Unfortunately, it seems that the blogs of people who are least qualified to be showing other people how to build something are sometimes the most heavily read. Let me just say, just because someone is being adventuresome in their construction; say, building in some exotic location, does NOT mean they know what they are doing. Now, some of these are fun to read regardless and I am not promoting myself as some all-time expert; I make mistakes too, which I will also show you. That said, I do have almost 20 years of construction and safety training and with that I say please, PLEASE, be very careful who you take construction advise from and what their qualifications are. I don't care how much experience they say they have in concrete, if they don't know what a snap-tie or a johnny clamp is, you run from them, quickly. They are an idiot and have never worked in the industry. In fact, we used to have a game we played when I worked construction. We often had fellows drop by our jobs looking for work and they often claimed to be form carpenters or whatever. This is common in commercial construction. Now, they wouldn't have a resume or anything but would just tell the super what their experience etc. Now, if they promoted themselves as super-carpenter, one who had done all and been all, and even if he uttered the famous words of one guy, "when it gets too rough for everybody else, it's just right for me", we, the crew, would immediately start taking bets on how fast this guy was going to drag up. Not, IF he was going to drag up but just how fast, because when people start talking like that they are full of shit. We never were wrong about a one. Keep that in mind when reading these blogs.
I have also noticed that many of the self-sufficiency types and all really like to get out of the city limits where there are fewer, if any, restrictions on building. Now, I don't have a problem with this. I'm only in the county and didn't have inspections on my house BUT, it is still built to code. Now, I agree that many times the building codes are stupid about some things and the city just wants the revenue. However, for the most part these building codes are for your protection. They are there so that JimBob doesn't put your rafters on 3 foot centers and have the ceiling or roof collapse on you. It's there so your neighbor isn't shitting in a 55-gallon drum and having it overflow onto your property. It's there so your well-meaning cousin doesn't burn your house down because he really didn't know how to wire that junction box anyway.
I have seen some of the stupidest things done, by way of building, on some of these blogs. I have seen people frame a two story house and not put the first header over a door or window. That's fine until about 2 years down the road when things have sagged so bad they can't open any of the doors or windows. I have seen a lot of unsupported spans on outer floor bands and rafters; no piers but in the corners. Code will tell you how far you can span according to the size lumber. I actually saw a couple install rafters with the wide side down. Now, I don't know how anyone can look at that, no matter their experience or lack thereof, and think,' yeah, that's the way those go'.
Granted it was just a chicken coop (a big one) but, holy hell! how do you do something like that.?? I have seen people install roofing in about every bad way imaginable. Granted now, roofing can be difficult and you really need to have help if you don't know what you are doing.
And Lord O' mercy, don't get me started about people pouring concrete. Concrete is a wonderful and versatile medium. It is astounding in it's strength and beauty. Under the right circumstances, it will kill you deader'n a hammer in seconds if you make one mistake. Concrete is not something to screw with and you especially need to watch who you get your advice from. Now, it's hard to make a deadly mistake pouring a slab for a patio or such but you can mess up and waste an enormous amount of money if nothing else. The photo above is of some formwork from one of my old jobs. We were pouring foundation piers and footings that were 2-3 feet deep. You can see some of the massive amount of rebar that went in those footings and the steel sticking up was just part of what was stubbed up for the walls that would pour on top. And, in all honesty, these were kinda wimpy footings for commercial work. I've seen one guy, on a blog, pour walls where he only put a stick of rebar every 4 or 5 feet and then claimed that was overdoing it. And NO, fiber in the mix does not help on walls. Fiber is to help keep slabs and walkways from cracking. It is NOT structural. Nothing over his doorways, windows etc. Please, please, please, consult with an actual concrete professional if you are going to pour walls, even some retaining walls. Walls must be tied into the footings correctly and with sufficient steel and the footings themselves must be sufficient to hold the wall up. Now, I know footings for a house are nowhere near what commercial construction calls for but, as I have actually seen, a 2-inch thick little spread footing is NOT going to hold up a two story house, especially when it was poured right on top of the topsoil! They didn't even dig down past the frost line or to substantial enough earth to meet resistance from a probe. You can get into a lot of trouble with concrete in a hurry if it is done incorrectly. The form itself can fail, which I have seen, and that can hurt or kill someone. Concrete (reinforced) weighs around 140 lbs. per cubic FOOT. That means one yard is way over 3,000 pounds. Concrete is expensive nowadays and hard to get back out once it has set! If you screw it up it can be costly to repair.
It just pains me to no end to watch people install such piss-poor foundations for their houses and such and you know, come a year or two or 5, everything is going to be so damn outta whack the walls are going to be cracking and all kinds of hell. The foundations, however they are done, must be done correctly or the rest of the house will suffer for it. And you too, I might add.
So, this is my rant. Just please, take most of what you see online with a grain of salt. Even me. For one thing, I have come to realize that something that is code down here might not be advisable in another climate and some stuff I've seen done up north (because it was code) I would never do here. MUCH depends on your climate, the geology of your region and the building materials you are using. Please, please be aware of these things, research your ideas for your region and know and go by the building codes, even if you don't have to.


Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
edifice rex said...

Hey Ron! good to hear from you. First off, I never said anywhere homeowners shouldn't do their own; in fact, I thought I encouraged it. But like I repeatedly also said, do your homework, understand the codes and check out anybody that helps you (ONLINE or not) and yes, you can do a good job. You didn't get 'professionals'; you got jacklegs, which is common in rural areas. And yes, they will cut all the corners out from under you! Buyer beware indeed.
Secondly, the fiber you applied over the surface of your block work is not what I was referring to. They mix a fiber into the concrete itself that some say has structural qualities for pouring walls and ceilings (taking the place of rebar). It does not and is not the same thing.
And no, I don't cut corners when it comes to my safety or the safety of someone helping me.

Ed said...

Excellent rant and right on the money. Unfortunately, I think blogs on house building are probably the cause of a lot of what you ranted about. People read blogs of people doing this or that and think hey, if they can do it I can do it. Even worse, those that blog about it rarely blog about their mistakes when things start going wrong a few years down the road. That is one of the reason I like your blog and also Ron's blog, you both blog about your successes and failures which give those of us who read them a chance to get it right. Unfortunately, I think you two are a rarity in home building blogs.

I have spent lots of time searching the internet for home building blogs and over the year have a dozen or so that I read. The vast majority I find are people who are just taking pictures as a contractor builds their house for them which doesn't interest me. So keep on blogging the good, bad and ugly so people like me can learn and when it comes my time and I'm blogging about building my house, I certainly hope you point out when I'm being a jackass and not doing something right.

Floridacracker said...

I just ask you when I don't know it or the book doesn't explain it.


edifice rex said...

Hey Ed! you are exactly right and make some good points. I'm amazed at some of the bloggers that will say, yeah, that didn't come out quite right, but will never SHOW how bad it really was. You know then they are full of shit. Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I have always tried to show a very honest approach to building. Ron's always been good about showing his ups and downs too. It is a rare thing. I've gotten very reluctant to give advice these days (most men get real pissed off) but for you Ed I might throw out an opinion or two. Maybe. :)

Hey FC! Ha! now you are going to give me the big head! and if I don't know (which is not uncommon) I consult with the fellers!

HermitJim said...

I certainly like the fact that I can drop in here and learn so many different things!

Actually, all the folks that drop in here seem pretty experienced to me, but then...I don't know anything about building at all!

I just like the honesty I find here, ya know?

Ron said...

You are right, I didn't have professionals. Jacklegs is an accurate description.

And I agree - a person should understand the codes and use them as a guideline when building something as important as a house.

Sorry if I misunderstood or came across as critical... I'm still a bit sensitive when people suggest that hiring or consulting someone will give a better result. Because, in my case, in this rural area, that wasn't true.

I always have liked your blog. None of what I said was directed at you.

Jane in Maine said...

This has nothing to do with your rant but I have been meaning to write to tell you that your helpful suggestion on keeping moles/voles away in the garden in a previous post seems to be working for me and my garden has never looked better!!I am soooo excited and thank you-hope you are doing well. Jane in Maine

Jenn said...

Thank you.

Worst code short-cut I ever saw was with a CMU wall. They put the high end wall of a gym, that later got re-purposed into a preschool, with no grout and no reinforcing rod.

It was a very lucky day for them that when the high winds came and knocked the wall INTO THE BUILDING that there was no one inside.

I still shudder to think of it.

Ron said...

I didn't quite say it right... what I meant was "yep, right on... people should definitely do their homework whether they do it themselves or hire someone else."

Ok, that's better. :)

Anonymous said...

Nice rant :) I enjoyed reading it, and -- although I hate people telling me what to do and how to do it -- I agree with everything you said. Not knowing how to do something is one thing, but reading or taking advice from "experts" who really don't know what they are doing is quite another.

It's hard to watch this sort of thing when you know what you are doing in a given field and you see "innocents" being led to slaughter (so to speak).


Woody said...

I only wish I had done more homework before we had hired our general who built our home. I've now spent too much time and money correcting mistakes that I had no clue about during construction. Education can be expensive.

edifice rex said...

Hey Anon! thanks! yeah, I hate to see people mislead others in an attempt to make themselves look like some kind of expert.

Hey Woody! You are not alone; I'll say that. I hear that A LOT. That's why I always tell people to get at least 3 good references on a contractor.

Frugal Canadian Hermit said...

This was an intersting post Annie. I know alot of things on my house that I would do differently if I were to do it over again. Live an learn. But things will be alot better next time. It seems no matter where one gets their info from, everyone has a different answer, yet they all sound like they know what they're talking about. Hope my house don't fall down anytime time soon. I admit, I obviously did'nt have much building or concrete experience other than pushing wheel barrows full of it years ago. Guess that's why I built a wood basement. (Another learning experience). I think my footings are going to hold up, although, I know I could have done alot differently with that too. Now I'm wondering. lol. I guess time will tell.

edifice rex said...

Hey Mark! No, your work is fine! I've mentioned several times on your blog that I think you are doing a fine job and you have an inspector to guide you along too. What you are doing is in no way what I was referring to or like the others I was writing about.