Q&A / 

March 10, 2009 AsktheBuilder News And Tips

What’s in This Issue?



You better grab a cup of bean juice or some other comfort liquid. This newsletter is packed with information and tips. Strap yourself in.


Last week I mentioned how after I hit the Send button, I prepare for the incoming replies. Most of them are positive comments, but just as you might expect, I get my fair share of negative ones. Most of the time the person is complaining about not wanting to hear about my personal life. Last week I got an email from a man who didn't want to hear about my slippers - he just wanted hard-core home-improvement tips. I so wanted to reply to him mentioning that he gets the newsletter *for free*. But I restrained myself.

Needless to say, reading the negative comments really gives you a peek inside the heads of some people. If you're a person who works eight hours a day in a Customer Service position and fields negative calls like that, all I can say is God Bless You!


I'm getting ready to start writing the specifications for my new home here in New Hampshire. The builder I'm using recently switched from using fiberglass to spray foam. I'm attracted to spray foam for a number of reasons. I used it many years ago for a customer, and it was an amazing product. I may have been one of the first builders in Cincinnati, OH, to use foam on a residential job.

In case you're wondering, I'm using a local builder because I want to enjoy the process and walk through the house each day taking photos and taping videos. I don't want to be involved in managing the subs and ordering materials and stressing out. But I digress.

So right now I'm trying to be as green as possible where it really makes sense. There's a tremendous amount of greenwashing going on right now where companies are saying their products are *green*, when in my opinion they look like the identical product from three years ago.

It appears the foam I may use is indeed a really green product and quite good. Icynene is sporting a new foam insulation that has my attention. It doesn't contain hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) and Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Yikes! That was scary just typing those words.

This new Icynene product has castor oil in it with no chemical additives. Castor crops have all sorts of other benefits, and they don't compete with food crops. I'm going to get some testing information, and I'm going to visit a few job sites where it's being installed. I'll keep you posted. Read more about this green foam insulation.


Last week, I mentioned a great coffee-table book about sheds. I know from my own website records that sheds are popular. You may have been one of the 2,300 in just the past eight days to click to get more information about that book. However, I had the pleasure to hear from my friend Graham Green in New Zealand and Caelum Brice who lives in Australia as well. Sheds are BIG down under indeed! Kevin Allen also piped up.

Graham said,

"I don't know if you've ever visited the north of England but up in the grim north when a young man has impending marriage, his thoughts turn to shed.

The bride to be and her mates will occupy themselves with frippery whilst the men get the shed sorted out. This is so that he'll always have somewhere to go.

Here in New Zealand, we have a monthly glossy magazine with pretty high production values called: The Shed.

When you consider all of the things that have been invented in sheds and, indeed, in Britain are still manufactured in sheds I think that there is a case for state shed sponsorship. This idea is not very far from the English principle of providing city dwellers with 'an allotment' for growing vegetables. That started during the second World War and is going strong today. There are long waiting lists for council allotments.

So Tim, I hope we are going to get a design and build blog for your shed. I have but one suggestion for the mix. I put stuff called D-C Fix transparent window covering on my shed windows for a little bit of privacy. It comes in an ever increasing range of styles and densities and is just the job if you want a quick repair for a cracked pane or something to take the sting out of direct sunlight."

Graham, I'll for sure chronicle the construction of my shed. No worries there. You may get some interesting input from some of my subscribers about your *frippery* comment. I'll be sure to collect them and send along to you. Yikes!

Caelum wrote, "I've been getting your newsletters for a year or so and although they're US-based often find something interesting in them. Your link to Designer/Elegant Sheds reminded me of a great series of books about Australian sheds called Blokes and Sheds. It's really the opposite of "designer sheds", but well worth a look. The author/photographer Mark Thompson delves into the Australian backyard to find examples of blokes in their natural habitats! His other books are also worth checking out."

Kevin Allen lives here in the USA and wrote, "About sheds, I built mine myself and am very happy with it. I was stunned to see that 10' x 12' shed kits were selling for about $1,600 in this area. I went to the privately owned lumberyard that supplied me with the building materials for my new house. They had 5 trusses built exactly to my specs that were the skeleton of the shed. They cost about $50 total and no other 2" x 4"'s were needed for the walls. I had the other supplies (siding, shingle, nails, decking, etc.) delivered for no charge and ended up with a 12' x 12' shed for less money than the national stores wanted. My shed also has 12" overhang which keeps the rain out of the way and off the siding. I haven't seen that in the stores either.

My message to all is when you want to start a project, go to your local independent lumberyard for a competitive quote. In the end you may save money and get better quality materials like I did.

Thanks and keep doin' what you're doin'."

Kevin, I couldn't agree more. ALWAYS visit your local lumberyard. They always have more lumber than the home centers, usually better grades, more selection and lots of knowledgeable staff ready to give free advice.


Money may be very tight for you right now, but you want to desperately update the inside of your home. If you're like many, you might tend to overlook the interior doors of your home. Doors and the trim around them can really set the mood in a room.

I had the good fortune years ago to discover an amazing company in Canada that makes the best interior wood doors I've seen and installed. They also make exterior doors. There may be better ones, but I've not yet been introduced to them. Connie and Paul work together with other employees at Byrcon Wood Products to produce doors that will last generations.

Just about every interior door at my Cincinnati home is a gorgeous solid poplar door made by Paul and Connie. Check out this column to see a close up of one of my doors.

They shipped them right to my doorstep. It didn't matter if I wanted just one door or thirty. The doors are shipped with the hinge mortises complete, even if you want the traditional square mortise for square-butt hinges. That's what I have, as I wanted the traditional Victorian look in my home. Byrcon will be supplying the interior doors for my new home. Of that you can be quite sure.

When you see the number of styles of doors you can get from them, you'll be starry eyed. I'm a finish carpenter, and I can't begin to tell you how pleased I am with the fit and finish of my doors. Go visit Byrcon Wood Products web site and see what you think.


Alan is a subscriber to the newsletter. Last week he said, "If possible, could you discuss tankless water heaters in your newsletter in the future. I believe they now qualify for the tax credit also. Thank you in advance for your thoughts."

Alan, your email brings up several great points. The one is that I've covered this topic in great detail in the past, and the columns were waiting for you all along. All you had to do was type: tankless heaters into the Search Box at the top of any page at AsktheBuilder.com and you would have had your answers in seconds.

This happens each week. I get at least twenty or more emails after the newsletter goes out. In each and every case, I've already answered the question in a past column. To save yourself lots of typing and time, just go to my website and take your time using my Search tool. It's really powerful. But I digress, again.

Alan, here's what you need to know about tankless heaters. Pay VERY close attention to the real payback period. It can take many years for you to recapture in fuel savings the extra money you spend for the heater as well as the possible extra installation cost. I cover all of this in great detail in my past columns on tankless heaters. In some instances, people who install them actually end up spending more money each month in fuel costs. Why? Because there's now an endless supply of hot water!


Deedra, from Wakefield, Rhode Island, is a subscriber. She reached out last week asking me to mention the ReStore program that's a part of Habitat for Humanity.

Deedra said, "Many affiliates throughout this country operate a retail operation called ReStore to offer donated building materials, appliances, furniture, and a variety of other useful products at very affordable prices. From the sale of these items, additional funds are generated to support the building of more homes. Individuals and businesses who provide inventory items to a ReStore are given a receipt for their tax-deductible donation. Different ReStore operations have specific lists of items they want, or don't want, but all items are in good and useable condition. Many ReStore facilities can even provide a pick-up service."

Go here to discover more about ReStore.


I have a huge problem at my New Hampshire house. Thousands of other people have it as well. Many houses here in New England have no gutters and they have wood decks attached to the houses. When it rains or the snow melts, the water dropping from the roof splashes onto the siding and doors. I've visited all the local hardware stores, the home centers and went online doing an exhaustive search only to come up empty handed for a solution to the problem.

I'm looking for a grating system that I can cut into the planking of my deck. Ideally it would be about 4-inches wide and the gaps between the grating would be substantial so that drops of water would make it through without splashing. The grating would have to be installed flush with the decking to prevent problems with bare feet. It also needs to be corrosion resistant. Have you seen a product made for this specific purpose? Can you contact me with a link to it?


About a month ago, I tested a super digital inspection camera. This tool has a 3-foot flexible cable with a camera and LED lights at the end of it. You only have to drill a small hole to get the camera into a wall or ceiling.

At the other end of the tool is the screen. You see in color what the camera is seeing. When equipped with an SD storage chip, you can take digital photos and videos of what your looking at. It's perfect for all those places you can't see! Read the column I wrote about this tool. It really covers camera inspection.


Earlier, I mentioned interior doors as a remodeling project that really spices up your home. Another thing you can do to set off a room is add crown molding. If you want a few tips, watch this crown-molding video of mine.


It's nearly the end of winter and summer is almost here. Insulation can help you lower your energy bills. While it's not the perfect answer, insulation does work.

I taped a pretty informative DVD a few years back covering many types of insulation and some tips in working with it. We've decided to put them on sale for only $9.97 in an effort to help you lower your fuel costs. There are only a limited number available in the warehouse, and we will not be reordering these. If you decide to get one, you'll own a piece of AsktheBuilder history indeed!

That's enough for this week. I'm afraid of giving you sensory overload. Next issue I'll be giving you a boatload of links to new columns I've written. There are many!



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