Monthly Archives: March 2013

Roof choices for your home

Whatever the wall type, trussed rafters are a good choice for the roof framing.

Trusses provide a clear span that makes interior design much more variable, and makes future renovation easier. Trusses can be used in floors as well to provide for a clear span in spaces below. Ease of construction tends to make truss use nearly as inexpensive as other methods. Trusses can be engineered in a great many configurations, and for many roof styles.

a common roof truss

A common gable roof truss

They can provide for vaulted ceilings using scissor trusses, studio trusses, or trusses with center bays. and can be built with “heels” to allow room for more insulation in the attic space It is quite rare to see a house built without trusses, in this part of the country.

Attic trusses can be built to allow for extra rooms under the roof in a story and a half configuration.

Spans can exceed eighty feet with timber roof trusses, although, I can’t imagine many houses requiring that wide a clear span.

You can build your own roof trusses (or as an alternative you can visit, but they are usually made in a factory setting where they are joined together using steel gang nail gusset plates that are pressed into place. They may include steel structural members. Trusses require careful planning and should be engineer designed or approved. Extra care must be taken here, as this is, perhaps, the most important structural element of your house. You have no doubt all heard of roof collapses, or for that matter bridge collapses. These are often the result of compromised, or under designed trusses. Because the cost is not usually great, I prefer to have trusses designed for higher loads than would normally be required. One way is to have your trusses designed for 2 ft centers, but place them on a narrower spacing.

Your truss supplier will need to know the spacing, span, load, eave width, slope, whether you require a heel, and roof type. If your roof is complicated in any way, they will need a set of blueprints. Load is defined as live load and dead load, where dead load is the weight of the roof itself, including any permanently installed or likely to be installed equipment. Live load is temporary loads likely to be encountered, such as workers and construction equipment, or snow accumulations. Slope is usually expressed as inches per foot such as 4.5/12 or 6/12. A heel raises the rafter portion of the truss, and allows for more insulation at the outside perimeter of the attic.

roof with many gables

Gable roof

Some basic roof types are the gable, hip, gambrel, mansard, pyramid, saltbox, shed and flat. They may be called different names, and come in many combinations, materials and slopes. They are limited only by the architects imagination, structural integrity and the ability to keep out the weather. Needless to say, the simplest   will cost the least. In my opinion, a simpler design  can be more easily blended to it’s environment. A complex roof will add interest, and can make a house stand out, if that is your goal.

Some roof types are better suited for different conditions.

A steeply sloping roof with steel cladding is a good choice in high snowfall areas. Low slope or flat roofs will interfere less with sight lines, and will keep the height of a building down. consider carefully before using a bonnet type roof in cold climates. they have a tendency towards ice damming,

A roof may be clad in many materials but the most common in North America are organic asphalt, asphalt/fiberglass shingles, wood shingles, sheet steel or tile. Tile is mostly restricted to the southern and drier areas of the continent. Wood shingles are usually of cedar and have become expensive enough that they are most often used only where appearance makes them desirable.

A flat roof consists of built up layers of tar and sheet material topped with a protective coating of aggregate, or alternately layers of bitumen or fiberglass waterproof sheet, Not common in housing , it is often used on large commercial buildings. More flat roof info is available at this link.

Roll roofing of organic asphalt is available which is inexpensive and quick to apply, and can be used if economy is the major factor.

A shingle roof, today, is placed on a base of 7/16” plywood, or OSB, with a layer of roofing felt. (I prefer a thicker sheathing.) In cold climates, a layer of self adhesive rubberized material is placed at the eaves to prevent leaks caused by ice damming. Valleys may be further reinforced with rubberized material and aluminum or steel sheet.

Modern asphalt/fiberglass shingles can give pleasing contoured visual effects, and can have lifespans of fifty years or more.This is nearly comparable to wood or steel. Wind resistance is quite good. The economical three tab shingles have a lifespan of twenty five years or more. Some shingles will have additives to reduce moss growth. An asphalt roof must be well vented to prevent excess heat build up. Important on other types, as well, for interior comfort. Proper applicaton is critical. Do your research if you plan to do your own.

man falling off roof cartoon, roof choices for your home

a roof can be dangerous

Steel and tile roofing usually rests on a framework of furring strips. Both may have a better resistance to UV light and heat than asphalt shingles. It may be more difficult to seal any perforations through the roof. Steel has the added advantages of shedding snow easily and of making a lighter roof. Expansion and contraction at differing temperatures is a factor with steel that can loosen fasteners. Steel is very slippery, and venturing onto a steel roof to remove excess snow can be very dangerous. Tiles tend to be fragile, and although walking on a tile roof is possible, it should be avoided altogether if you can.

There are quite a few color choices with asphalt or steel with the most vibrant tones being available with steel. Tile colors are more limited. Dark colors will absorb more heat, and lighter colors will reflect it. There is a considerable difference, and it should be considered when choosing colors. Extra heat can affect the lifespan of some roofing.

Bolder contours can be achieved with tile or steel, but there is considerable variety in asphalt/fiberglass shingles.

Organic asphalt shingles are made with asphalt impregnated paper and a ceramic aggregate. Asphalt/fiberglass shingles are asphalt and aggregate coating on a fiberglass base. They may be laminated (layered) for architectural appeal, added strength ,and and wind resistance. Both have an adhesive strip to bond them together after they are applied.

Roof tiles may be made of differing materials but traditionally are of ceramic or concrete.

From an environmental point of view, there may not be a lot of difference between the choices, when everything is considered. I believe the best thing to do may be to choose a product with a longer life span, particularly where the cost differential is not great. I would like to see someone do a detailed analysis in this regard.

This is a large subject for one blog post. If you would like more information, please use the links I have provided.

For an interesting look at how things are done down under, check out this link

Bill said he couldn’t make any money building a roof——-Too much overhead.

It is snowing heavily outside my window right now, and I am pretty happy to have a roof over my head.

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Tools you may need

While it is possible to build with as little as a hammer, square, handsaw, tape measure and level, it is big advantage to use modern power tools and electronics. Of course, if you are only doing the general contracting, about all you will need is a cell phone. I am going to try to list some of the tools you need, and some that you could use. I am going to use some pictures, but if a brand is obvious, it does not mean I am endorsing it.

In some cases, you may want industrial quality, and in others, ordinary homeowner quality will be sufficient

Take good care of you tools, they are extensions of yourself.

Hammers are the symbol of builders. You will need several. A framing hammer ( usually 22 or 24 ounce), a 16 ounce claw hammer, a sledgehammer and possibly a couple different sizes of ball peen. Buy reasonable quality and keep more than one. They are easy to lose. The ball peen could be handy if you work any metal or do masonry work.

Saws are essential.

circular saw

circular saw

A decent quality circular saw will be used constantly. One that uses a 7.25 inch blade is good. You can buy different blades for different purposes, but a good combination type blade with carbide teeth will likely come with the saw and be used most. Keep a spare blade of this type.

reciprocating saw

reciprocating saw

A reciprocating saw is not an essential tool, but can be worth many times it’s cost when the need arises. It need not be an expensive one, but should have a quick change for the blade. Keep a variety of blades of good quality.

Power miter saw

Power miter saw

A power miter saw is very handy tool for making accurate angle cuts and square ends. Best when equipped with a stand, which you can purchase or make. Again, there is a large choice of blades. The combination blade that likely came with the saw is fine for framing. A smooth cut blade will be needed for cabinetry or finishing work. Sliding compound miter saws are the most versatile, but are expensive.

An inexpensive jigsaw with a variety of blades should be in every toolbox.

Job site table saw

Job site table saw

A table saw can be useful, but may be quite expensive. Consider one of the portable, fold down, job site saws available today. The low priced ones seem to work well, but don’t hold up as long.

There is a large variety of special power saws available, but most would find little use outside of a shop.

You will need hand saws. If you choose low cost hard point saws, you will not have to sharpen them, and can just replace them when they no longer work. You may need a hacksaw, jab saw or drywall saw, coping saw and back-saw with miter box. These are inexpensive enough to keep, in any case.

You will need levels. A 4 ft., a 2 ft., a pocket spirit level and a plumb bob. Possibly a laser level, transit, or water level. You can rent laser levels or transits as you won’t likely need them for long periods,and they can be very expensive.

Buy a good set of wood chisels, and keep them sharp.

Cordless drill and impact kit

Cordless drill and impact kit

A good cordless drill and impact driver is a worthwhile investment. The impact driver drives long screws easily with much less stripping. You need at least two batteries. Go with lithium-ion batteries. They are much superior. An 18 or 24 volt is excellent. These are a relatively expensive investment, but you will use them for many things for years. Cordless saws etc. are excellent as well, but you probably don’t need them very badly. Buy a cheap corded drill for back up, and perhaps a heavy duty ½ inch corded for mixing drywall mud, mortar, or thinset cement.

Squares are a must. The minimum would be a 24 x16 steel or aluminum square. Very handy is a 12 inch tri-square that has a lip on one edge. It will make for quick marking, and can be used as a guide for your circular saw when making 90 or 45 degree cuts. You might also want a 4 ft. T square for cutting or marking drywall.

Tape measures are needed. A 25 ft. is good, and you will have occasion to use a 100 ft. or more. Chalk lines and straight edges are very handy.

Needed as well are a multitude of other hand tools such as shovels, brooms, bars, paint brushes and rollers, pole and other sanders, drill bits of many sizes and kinds, nail sets, and the list can go on and on.

Air tools can speed a job up considerably. Some are expensive, but can be rented cheaply if you plan your job so you don’t need them for too long. You can buy cheaper brands, but they are often considerably heavier. Roofing nailers and framing nailers are the most expensive, and require a compressor that can deliver at least 4 cubic ft. of air per minute at 90 lbs. per square inch along with 50 to 100 ft. of good quality hose. Brad nailers and narrow crown staplers are cheaper and often come as a combination. They can be operated with a small compressor that can cost as little as 100 dollars. A brad nailer should be capable of driving an 18 gauge 2 inch brad. Use the stapler for putting up soffit and tacking down carpet, and the brad nailer for baseboard and casing.

small rolling scaffold

small rolling scaffold

You will need ladders and scaffolding. Buy high grade ladders. Your safety depends on them. You will need an extension ladder, and at least one stepladder from 5 to 8 ft. long. I like to have one each of 5 ft. and of 8 or 10 ft. Scaffolding can be rented, or you can go whole hog, and rent scissor lifts or man lifts. A good investment, though, is one or two of those small rolling mini scaffolds that can be bought for about 90.00 dollars each. Very handy tools when painting, dry walling or wiring, if only as a rolling shelf.

Heavy equipment will surely be needed for some jobs, but are too expensive to buy for one or two projects. A backhoe, skid steer, or loader may have to be rented or hired for land shaping, or back filling. Hire unless you have experience operating this type of equipment. You might want a crane for lifting rafters, or perhaps a whole roof section into place. You might need a concrete pumper for floor or wall pours. Expensive to hire, but sure makes life a lot easier. For excavating a basement, nothing is much better than a track hoe, if there is one nearby. Moving costs are quite high for this type of equipment.

If you can borrow tools, do so. Just be prepared to replace what you break and bring them back clean and sharp or your circle of friends might grow smaller. Buy used tools if possible, but don’t pay too much. Renting is good, but consider the time and gas spent picking up and returning stuff.

Most of you are do it yourself types and already have most of the tools you need, or won’t mind adding to your collection. If you decide to sell the bigger items after the project is finished, there is always a market for good quality tools. Don’t expect more than ½ new price, though.

A rule to follow, if the cost of tools needed is less than the cost of hiring the job done, buy the tools.

I can buy them on credit while tradesmen almost always demand cash. I don’t blame them, I demand cash for work too. In future posts we will suggest more tools when relevant and try to explain their uses, and how to use them.


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Good work practices

When you build your house, develop good work habits, and strongly encourage the same in your employees. Watch for dangerous practices and situations, and do not tolerate them.

Wear protective gear when appropriate.  Tie back long hair, and wear well fitting clothing. Leave the jewelry at home.

Keep all tools in good repair and all guards in place. Sharp tools are less dangerous than dull ones. Store them safely.

Keep your work site clean and uncluttered. I know I have said much of this before but to keep a work site safe it is worth emphasizing.

Make certain you and your employees are familiar with the tools, and know how they are used.

Loud unexpected noises can startle people and cause accidents. If you are going to drop a sledge hammer from the rafters onto the floor, give a warning.

Discourage smoking while working. It can be a fire hazard as well as a time waster.

Discourage the use of cell phones. They are distractions and thus dangerous. They can be huge time consumers as well.

accidentAbsolutely no alcohol or drugs should be allowed, nor should anybody be allowed to work while impaired. A hard drinking carpenter I know will not accept even one beer on a hot day while working. He says he likes his limbs and digits better than he likes the booze. Leave the drinks till the end of the work day. They will be appreciated all the more.

Start work at the same time each day, and use normal working hours, so that employees, delivery people, and inspectors know what to expect. Working overtime daily, to try to meet a schedule, is costly, and in my opinion not that productive. Tired employees slow down, and may not do good work. It is better to hire more people, if possible.  Building is hard work. Try to limit your days to 8 hours, and take weekends off. If you are building in your spare time, this is not going to be possible, but try not to overdo it. Imposing an irregular work schedule on employees will likely not be successful for long.

Do take a break every couple of hours for at least 10 minutes for coffee, snack or smoke. Don’t deduct this from an employees time. Camp chairs are nice for break time.

Take at least a half hour for lunch, and an hour if you are leaving the site to eat.

Don’t be afraid to treat yourself and your employees occasionally. Good work deserves a reward. Pizzas for lunch, or a cold beer after work, can go a long way towards keeping people loyal and productive.

Don’t forget toilet facilities, especially if you employ both sexes.

A source of cool drinking water is essential on hot days. You may want to have salt tablets available to guard against heat stroke.

A microwave or BBQ, and a coffee maker on site is nice, if it is inconvenient to leave the site for lunch.

Keep a good first aid kit nearby, and emergency services on speed dial on your cell phone.

Don’t be to stuck on using up the last few minutes in a work day. If you occasionally quit a little early ,your employees are less prone to complain if they need to work a little later once in awhile.

Pay regularly and on time. You can’t expect good work from people who are not sure if they will be paid. If some one should require an advance, I prefer to give an out of pocket loan, instead of going through the paperwork. Of course I expect to be paid back on payday.

When using tradespeople, be sure to schedule carefully, so people aren’t falling all over each other.

Don’t throw a fit over a mistake. Everybody will make one on occasion, and as long as no one is hurt, they should be more a source of amusement than a catastrophe. Expect good work from your employees, but understand that you may have to teach them some things. You may be able to learn from them as well, so listen to their input.

The better they work, the happier you will be.The happier they are, the better they will work.

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