For Contractors Only

One of the most frustrating things contractors face is the expectation from the public that estimates are free and are a necessary first step to any possibility of a serious dialogue. It has become part of the culture to expect this valuable service from the contractor. It is common that a prospect will contact several contractors without any more than a cursory idea of what he or she wants and expect estimates. They do this, often, with no real intention of taking action of any kind. As a contractor your options are to totally WAG “wild-ass-guess” the estimate (very little value to the prospect), or try to sketch some rough idea and actually take the time to put numbers to it, or just blow the whole thing off. At best it is a frustrating affair for both – at worst, a waste of time. Let's face it, our clients do not know or do not particularly care about the work it takes for you to do an estimate. An estimate is a valuable product. It takes knowledge and experience to produce. It is a sort of feasibility study which is a valuable product itself. [click to continue…]

2010 FBC Code Takes Effect – Some of the Changes.

by Engineer Designer on April 2, 2012

Remember the old purple 1985 Code Book (for those of us  operating in 80’s)? That was the entire Code – and, quite adequate by many accounts. The picture to the right is my own copy which I still keep up on the shelf for occasional reference. Most recognize that the Codes prior to 1992 were quite adequate. The failures noted after Hurricane Andrew were more the lack of  implementation than lack of rules. The subsequent Code changes were, by in the opinion of many, an over-reaction. We saw it again in 2007 in the wake of the 2004 hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne (and later tropical storm Bonnie)).
We have begun to expect that any later changes in code would  inevitably become tougher and tougher. However, some of the recent changes in FBC 2010 have been a surprise. The actual design wind pressures have reverted, to some extent, back to pre-2007 levels.As most of us are slogging through the new Code I have noted a few key points that might be of interest to many builders and do-it-yourselfers. These are not, of course, all the changes but are some of the key ones.
  • A key one, mentioned in my last Newsletter to Florida Builders, is that we are operating, now, on 3 wind charts which are showing Ultimate Wind Speed. These speeds appear higher but actually are not, in practice. Key is that we need to show the new numbers on the plans. We need to show the pressure calculations based upon current data.
  • Now, all plans for new construction of buildings must have a statement on the plans that states that the design load bearing values of the soils have been taken into account for the design of the structure and the values must be shown on the plans.  This appears to me to be a CYA clause in the Code. From my perspective, our statement that we have taken it into account states that we have considered it and have made a judgment whether or not it is adequate for the purposes. This places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the professional involved. I think there will be more questions asked about the site conditions.
  • Compaction test must be on site for the footer/slab inspection (if any fill 12” or more is put on the property under the slab) before and inspection can be approved. Compaction tests have been a flexible area in my experience. Modified Proctor ratings are usually noted on the plans but I have seen countless project where this is never checked. Now, per the Code, it must be.
  • Stair treads for residential are a minimum of 10” in depth maximum of 7 3/4 riser. This is a bit more latitude than we had in the past.
  • All elevations must be shown on plans for flood compliance i.e. base flood; base plus freeboard, top of lowest floor in “A” zones, bottom of lowest structural member in “V” zones. This, to me, says that we will need to be aware of actual elevations of the site. We used to be able to state generic terms and relative elevations. This one appears to mean that we need to me more specific in certain instances.
  • Openings in all block walls must be sealed before putting in windows or doors, Must use sealant not caulk. Blocks must be waterproofed around the entire opening on the inside and around the face of the blocks also.
  • Clearance of wood siding must have a 2” clearance from vertical concrete i.e. columns, porches, deck, etc.. This is common sense but we need to make sure of this and I suspect the examiners will want to see it on the plans.
There are tons of other areas of change, The Energy Code has changed. It is estimated that the overall Energy Code impact is about 5% more strict. Since it is my job to get as many of these things right as possible, up front, I have been hard at work becoming familiar with the new provision. If you have any Code questions, give me a call. Hopefully I’ll know it, but if not, will learn as I  help dig up the answer and get it added to my General Notes.  

Building A Home? Should You Use OSB Or Plywood Sheathing?

by Engineer Designer on November 9, 2011

The Building Profession is traditionally slow to change and adapt to new methods and materials. One example is the use of OSB sheathing verses the "good-ol" CDX plywood. I still find, in 2011, some builders who have never used nor plan to use OSB. When asked why, their answers seem to boil down to a few false ideas. Without further evaluation many dismiss OSB because they have seen the result of water damage to particle board in cabinet countertops. They remain convinced that OSB is similar and will come to pieces in high moisture. There is also, to some, a question of strength. How could a bunch of wood fibers that are pressed together be as good as the old standby, CDX plywood? I was a bit skeptical myself when I first came across OSB as an option - several years ago. However when I took a look at the product I had to admit it was quite well worth the try. I\'m going to go over a few myths that I have heard regarding OSB - but first let\'s cover a few definitions: Sheathing is used to stiffen a group of parallel framing members to keep them from racking. It is sometimes called a diaphragm. Plywood is a flat sheet of wood that is quite strong because of the way it is made. It consists of layers of wood (thin veneers) which are laminated together in alternating grain orientations. Since wood has a weak direction and a strong direction (relative to its grain pattern) these layers contain wood turned in different directions to gain strength in all directions. CDX plywood is a designation indicating a rough finish and a glue that is okay for exterior use. OSB (meaning Oriented Strand Board) is produced by taking small fibers from smaller, low diameter trees and bonding them with a resin, heat and pressure. These panels achieve excellent strength in all directions. Myths: Myth 1 OSB lacks the strength of CDX plywood. This is untrue. All building codes and dictating standards make no differentiation between OSB and plywood. For sheathing, they are considered structurally equivalent. Myth 2 - OSB will fall apart like particle board. This is untrue. Many have observed kitchen cabinets (many are largely made of covered particle board) which expand and even crumble after exposure to moisture. This would be quite unacceptable for a structural member of a home or building. However particle board is different than OSB in that it is not produced for exterior use. The truth is OSB is designed for longer exposure to exterior higher moisture conditions than even CDX. Myth 3 Plywood is just better than OSB and its what I have always used. I would never suggest anyone changing against their own certainty however my experience is that such considerations do not stand up to evaluation. If one looks one will likely conclude that plywood is not \"better\" than OSB. Factually OSB is made from younger and smaller fibers and are actually faster to product when one includes the growth of the wood. There is great consistency in the product and it is more stable, in dimension, than plywood when exposed to moisture. OSB has proven itself in the industry and is used in about 70% of homes in the U.S. I now specify it in my own designs and on my own projects unless the owner really insists on plywood. When this occurs I always make available the facts but will go with plywood if he or she chooses. Oh, and when folks compare the prices of OSB and Plywood (OSB sometimes costing half as much) this is usually the deciding factor. I believe that all of us should be open to newer and better ways to build our homes and buildings. OSB is one of those methods that I readily endorse.