Saturday, August 26, 2006

Homebuilding and Framing Layout

When framing a house it helps to plan ahead for the layout of the framing members. When laying out, how you start will effect every phase of the project and dictate how you finish.

When starting construction on a new home the first layout would be for the floor joists. Before I even put a pencil to the sill plates to mark centers for the joists, I look at the roof plan. I let the type of roof the house has dictate what my layout is going to be.

The simplest layout would be for a home with a gable roof. If this is the case, then the layout of sixteen inch centers for the floor joists would simply start from the corner of the building. On the gable ends of the house, the layout would be started from the center of the building. The reason for this will be explained later.

When the roof is a hip roof, the layout for my first floor joist will be where the first common rafter winds up on the top plate. If the first common rafter is 11'9" to its center then that is where my layout for my joists will start. As with a gable roof, the layout on the end of the building will start from the middle. There is only one common rafter on the end of the house
and it will be in the center of the wall.

Now that you have laid out your floor joists, this will be the layout for all other framing components. After the plywood has been put on the floor joists, the layout for the exterior walls will follow the floor joist layout. Any interior bearing walls will also follow this layout.

After the walls have been framed and raised, the next phase of construction would be ceiling joists (if its a ranch style home) or second floor joists (if its a two story home). The layout for these would fall right on top of the studs in the walls. In the case of the ceiling joists, these would be nailed on the top plate to the side of the studs and the rafters would be nailed to the plate over the studs.

This method of framing is called "stacking". All framing members are stacked on top of each other to transfer the loads to the foundation and footings.

When framing the gable end of a roof, it is also laid out from the center. This puts a stud right under the ridge to give it support. All the walls below it are laid out from center also, so this support reaches all the way to the foundation wall.

Another reason for stacking the framing members is to create a chase or bay for mechanicals to go through. This makes it easier for the plumbers, electricians, and heating and AC trades to do their job. By using this method in a two story home, it creates a 14 1/2" space between framing members from the roof to the basement.

Stacking framing members in this method not only transfers the weight of the building to the foundation, but also makes for a structurely sound building. It also keeps the other trades cutting up of framing members to a minimum.

Plan ahead and keep it simple.

Mike Merisko (C) 2006

www.sawkerfs .com

Friday, August 25, 2006

Garage Door Rough Openings

One of the most confusing aspects of homebuilding can be the
rough opening for an overhead garage door. It is one of the
most frequent questions I am asked.

The rough opening for a garage door, simply put, is the
actual size of the door itself. For example, if the garage
door is a 7'0" x 16'0", then that is the size the rough
opening should be framed to. This is also what the opening
in the foundation should be. The studs and cripples will
then stop right at the edge of the foundation.

The foundation usually drops 8" to allow the concrete floor
to be poured over the top of it. This has to be accounted
for when figuring the length of the cripples to get the
right heighth of the overhead door header. Normally the
floor is poured 3" below the top of the foundation wall. If
the overhead door is 7' then 4 and 1/2" is subtracted from
that heighth. This is the 3" drop and 1 1/2" for the bottom
plate. Your total cripple lenght would be 6' 7 1/2".

Once the floor is poured, the door jambs can be installed.
The width of these jamb pieces vary with the size of the
wall and what the wall is finished with (brick, siding,
dryvit, etc). The header piece is installed first, then the
two side pieces. These go from the header to the finished
concrete floor. Once the jambs are in the door can be
installed. With the door installed the door stops are then
put on either with or without weatherstripping.

If you know the door size of your overhead door, you know
the rough opening. From there its determining where to start
and stop your framing.

(c) Mike Merisko

Rough Openings For Doors

One of the most important parts of framing walls is getting
the rough openings right. Items that determine what the
heighth of your opening will be are floor finishes and the
use of underlayment. Door widths will stay constant with the
size of a standard door.

In new construction most doors are hung after the floors are
installed. This allows flooring contractors (tile, hardwood,
vinyl, laminate) to lay their flooring products without
making tricky cuts around door jambs. It also makes for a
neat and clean door installation. Exceptions to this are
carpeted floors. Doors are hung before the carpeting is
laid. When doors are hung in carpeted areas, its a good idea
to shim them up 1/2", putting a shim under each jamb leg.
This eliminates the need to cut the doors down after the
carpet is installed.

For a 6' 8" high door (80 inches) I like to frame my rough
opening heighth at 82 3/4". This allows room for all the
situations mentioned above. If your header material is a
double 2x12, holding it to the top plate will give you that

Rough openings for door widths are pretty much standard. The
rough opening width is 2 inches wider than the door itself.
this allows room for the door jambs which are usually 3/4"
thick. This gives you approximately 1/2" of play and shim
room when installing a prehung door. For a 36" door (3' 0")
the rough openig width would be 38". Here are the most
common door sizes and their rough openings.

Door Size Rough Opening Size

2' 0" x 6'8" -26" x 82 3/4"
2' 2" x 6'8" -28" x 82 3/4"
2' 4" x 6'8" -30" x 82 3/4"
2' 6" x 6'8" -32" x 82 3/4"
2' 8" x 6'8" -34" x 82 3/4"
2' 10"x 6'8" -36" x 82 3/4"
3' 0" x 6'8" -38" x 82 3/4"

To figure the rough opening for double doors or french
doors, take the door size times 2 and add 2". The most
common sizes for exterior doors are the 2'8" and the 3'0"
doors. The 2'8" is usually used for the back door and the
access door from the garage. That size door for exterior use
is being used less these days because of the size of
appliances and furniture. Exterior doors with sidelights and
sliding patio doors rough openings vary from manufacturer to
manufacturer. These should be verified and gotten from the

Getting the rough openings right the first time keeps the
sawzall in its carrying case and having to change the
opening after the walls are drywalled and painted.

To learn more about installing doors, check the archives of
this blog or go to

Mike Merisko (c) 2006

Choosing the Right House Plan

Everybody would like to live in a mansion or a sprawling ranch but there are many factors to consider when choosing a house plan. There are also a few pitfalls that can be avoided by doing your homework and making the right choices.

Before you commit to buying a stock or custom house plan, you should know how much of a house you can afford to build. A good place to get this information would be the bank that you might use to get your loan from.

Once you know what your budget is, you can determine how much house you can afford and pick a house plan that fits that budget. One way to accomplish this is to call several homebuilding contractors in your area. Ask them what the building costs per square foot are. Not all contractors are willing to volunteer this information, but you will find enough of them that are willing to help at the prospect of gaining a customer.

With this information you will be able to determine the square footage of a house plan you can afford. If your budget is $200,000 and the cost per square foot is $100, then a 2,000 square foot home is in your budget($200,000/$100= 2,000).

Another consideration is the size of the lot you intend on building your home. You don't want to invest in a blueprint for a house that won't fit on your lot. Check with your municipality or county on the distances you must have between the building and the lot lines. Most have rules on how much backyard you must have and how much your house must be set back from the street or building line.

Some towns and subdivisions also have what are called covenants. These are rules that dictate what you can and cannot build. Some of these covenants might include the minimum square footage house you can build, brick or frame construction, minimum roof pitch, and types of building materials you are allowed to use.

These are some of the important things you must consider. Building a new home the biggest investment you'll ever make. Doing a little homework will keep you from getting an unwanted surprise and wasting time and money on a plan you can't use.

(c) 2005 Mike Merisko

Choosing Finish Materials When Building Your Own Home

When building your own home, certain building materials must be chosen and ordered well in
advance of when they will be used. This is mainly due to how long the delivery time
is once the order is made. By ordering these materials at the proper time you ensure
that they will be on the job when they are needed.

Some of the materials that need to be ordered with plenty of lead time include windows,
plumbing fixtures, roofing, siding, electrical fixtures, brick, flooring, interior trim and

Windows and certain plumbing fixtures should be ordered about the time the foundation is
poured. Windows can take 3 to 6 weeks to get so order them accordingly. Ideally you'd like
these ready for delivery once the roof is framed and covered with sheathing so they can be
installed while the carpenter contractor is still there.

Plumbing fixtures such as bathtubs and shower stalls get put in place on the rough. Two to
three weeks should be plenty of time to make this available for your plumber.

Roofing should also be ordered even if it is a stock item. Make sure the color and style you
want is available so there are no surprises. If it needs to be ordered it gives your supplier
time to order it for you. Once the plywood is on the roof you'll want to shingle it as soon
as possible. This item should also be considered about the time the foundation is poured.

Siding and Brick should be considered once the rough framing is completed. This gives
the other trades a chance to run electric, plumbing, or vents out exterior walls. Once that
is done these exterior finishes should be at your disposal.

Electrical fixtures should be ordered once the rough is finished. If ordering these from an
electrical supply house, specialty fixtures could take as much as six weeks.

Flooring is another item that should be considered once the rough carpentry is finished.
You'll want to make sure items such as carpeting, ceramic or quarry tile, laminate, hardwood,
or vinyl flooring is available when you need them.

Interior trim amd millwork should be measured up for and ordered after the drywall is up.
While the taping and painting is being done, your order can be run. Once the painting is done
your order should be ready for delivery. Give this two to three weeks lead time.

Once the painting is done, ordering appliances is in order. I know a guy who ordered his
refrigerator for when the drywall was done so his favorite beverage was on hand as he worked
on his new home.

Having all the necessary materials on hand is important to keep your homebuilding project
moving smoothly. If your trying to meet a deadline this becomes even more important. If your
paying on a construction loan, ordering materials with plenty of lead time can save you money.

(c) 2006 Mike Merisko

Doing a Siding Takeoff

For me one of the easiest material takeoffs to do from a
houseplan is for siding. It doesn't matter whether it's
T-11,vinyl,cedar or cement board siding. Just like roofing,
these materials can be figured by the square foot.

I use the elevation plan of the house when doing the
takeoff. These are usually drawn to 1/8" or 1/4" scale. To
find the square footage for the side of a house, I multiply
the width by the height. For example if the side of a house
with a hip roof is 25' wide and 8' high the square footage
is 200 square feet (sq. ft.).

If the side of the house has a gable figure it by itself. To
figure the square footage for a gable end, muliply the width
times the height and divide by two. Using our example above
for a 25' wide house, lets say that from the top of the wall
to the top of the ridge is 8'. Using our formula for
figuring gables, the square footage would be 100 sq. ft.
(25x8 divided by 2=100). Add this to the 200 sq. ft. we
figured for our wall and the total is 300 sq. ft. Do this
for all four sides of the house to give you the total amount
of square feet.

When ordering siding it is usually ordered by the square.
One square is equal to 100 square feet. The side of the
house in our example had 300 sq. ft. or 3 squares.

The exception to this would be if sheet goods were being
used. In this case divide the square footage by the square
footage of the sheet. This would be 32 sq. ft. for a 4x8
sheet. In our example of 300 sq. ft. it would take 10 sheets
to cover our wall.

When doing a take off for this task one should figure for
waste. There are a couple of ways to do this. One way is to
subtract the square footage of all the windows and doors and
add 10% for waste. The alternative to this method is to not
subtract the doors and windows and let that account for the
waste. Unless there is an unusual amount of windows and
doors this method work fine and is the one I prefer to use.

As your doing your takeoff dfrom the house plan, write
everything down. Write down front elevation and below it
write your figures for the square footage for that
elevation. Then do the right elevation and do the same. Make
your way around the house till you have all the sides of the
house figured. Add all the sides together and you'll have
the total square footage.

Mike Merisko (c) 2006

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Planning a Second Story Addition

Planning is the key when taking on a project that involves removing your roof.

Before you plan your 2nd story, research what obstacles will need to be dealt with. Examples of items that need to be addressed are:

-Size of ceiling joists, can they support a 2nd story floor?

-Are mechanicals run over the top of existing ceiling joists?
(plumbing, electRic, HVAC)

-How much overhang is on existing roof and are there any
utilities fastened to it.

-Is the existing roof stick built(built on site) or a truss

-Is the roof sheathing 1x boards or plywood?

-How many layers of shingles are there?

-Are there any Stacks or flues protruding through the roof
such as a fireplace chimney, furnace flue, or vent pipe.

These things need to be considered so the addition can be built as quickly as possible.

When starting the tearoff, the first thing that needs to be addressedis the soffit. Removing this first will free up the rafter ends when it comes time to remove them. Sometimes utilities like the phone and electrical lines are attached to the soffit. These should be moved by their respective utility company.

Now you can tearoff the roof. The easiest way to remove the shingles and sheathing is with a circular saw. It's best to use an old blade with a lesser amount off teeth because it will be trash when you are done.

When cutting the roof away, start at the ridgeboard and run the saw between the rafters all the way to the rafter tails. Repeat this cut every 32" from one end of the roof to the other. These pieces, assuming they are plywood, can be removed in 32"x 48" squares. There will still be some weight to these pieces but this will make them more managable. Working from the ridge, these squares are loosened with a sledgehammer. Once there is enough room, you can use a prybar to free them from the rafters. My favorite technique is to use a 6 to 8 foot 2x4. Slip it under the loosened piece and use an adjacent
rafter as a fulcrum. Push down on the 2x4 and up comes the plywood and shingles. This same procedure works with trusses also.

If the roof sheathing is planks, the cuts should be made 48" to 64"apart. If there are 2 or mre layers of shingles, you should be able to roll these sections down the rafters.

Once the roof sheathing is removed, the rest of the components canbe removed. If the soffit and fascia haven't been removed yet, thisis another opportunity to do so. Once that is gone the rafters can be removed. The rafters can be detached from the ridgeboard by using a sledgehammer or a sawzall. After they are loose from the ridge, they can be twisted off the top plate.

Trusses can be a little trickier. After the sheathing is removed,most of the truss work will have to be cut out. The only part left would be the bottom cord that holds up the drywall ceiling. Since most of these cords are 2x4's, larger 2x lumber will have to be sistered alongside for added support. As long as there are bearing walls below, this 2x lumber could be 2x10's, 2x12's or engineered lumber such as I-joists. Each situation is different and what is used is spect by an engineer or architect.

In most cases, the electric (conduit), plumbing and/or HVAC run over the top of the ceiling joists. Usually, the easiest way to deal with this, is to build a knee wall high enough for the new floor joists to clear these obstructions. This makes the second floor deck higher so it will make your stair run longer. Making sure you have room for the stairs in this instance is another consideration.

Once the deck is down, the walls, ceiling joists, and roof of your new addition can follow.

Whatever situation might you have, good planning will make this taskeasier and quicker. Time is of the essence when it comes to removing a roof. You want to protect the existing structure and all of your valuable possesions that are left inside.

(c) 2005 Mike Merisko

Figuring Lumber Amounts for Homebuilding

Getting the right amount of lumber for your homebuilding project can be very important. Ordering to much lumber can add unnecessary costs to your project. Not ordering enough lumber or missing a component can bring your project to a screeching halt.

When I do a lumber takeoff, I do it in the order that it would be built. I start with the sill plates followed by the floor joists, tongue and groove plywood, and wall lumber (studs, plates, sheathing). If its a two story home, the next item would be the second floor floor joists followed by the second story walls (interior and exterior), then the ceiling joists, rafters and roof sheathing. If the house is a ranch, you would go from walls to ceiling joist, rafters and roof sheathing. That's the bulk of your lumber list but there are other incidentals that need to be added to your list. These items include:

Stair material (if carpenter built)
Soffit and fascia (plywood and 1x, 2x etc.)
Construction adhesive
Housewrap (Tyvek, Typar)
Nails (8d, 16d coated sinkers, cap nails)
Bridging (for floor joists)
Header material (2x12's, 2x10's, whatever is spec'd)

There are three methods that I use to figure a lumber list when building a new home. The first one that I use is for figuring my wall studs. I figure the total lineal feet of wall for the exterior walls. If its 150' then I order 150 studs. I do the same for the interior walls and for the second floor walls if there is one. This takes care of cripples for doors and windows and extra studs it takes to frame inside and outside corners. I always add 10% for wall bracing. Also, by getting the lineal feet of wall you have just figured what is needed for top and bottom plates. Take that lineal footage total times 3 and you have the total feet of plate you need for your walls.

To figure the amount of floor joists needed, I use a different method. If the length of a building is 32', I take that length times 4 and divide it by 3 and add 1. The total amount of joists needed in this example is 25 pieces. I use this same method to figure ceiling joists and rafters.

Sheet goods like plywood and foam sheathing are figured by using the square footage formula
length x width /32 = number of pieces of plywood.

There may be other ways to figure these things, but these simple methods always worked for me.

Mike Merisko (c) 2006

Two Story Homes: More Bang For Your Buck

If you are going to build your own home and want to get more for
your money, consider a two story home. There are major parts of
the construction process that can save you money over building a
ranch style home. The three major areas to cut costs are
excavation, the foundation, and the roof.

When excavating for a ranch style home, you are digging a hole
for living space all on one floor. Let's say the square footage
of this ranch is 2,000 sq. ft. If this house has a full basement
that's a lot of dirt to be removed to accomodate a foundation. A
two story home such as a Colonial or Georgian style with the same
square footage will require half as much excavation. These style
of homes usually have close to equal the amount of square feet on
both floors. For this phase of construction a single story home
requires twice the labor and twice the material to be removed for
the foundation. After backfilling the foundation, any extra dirt
that can't be spread about the lot, has to be hauled away. This
could be a sizable burden to your construction budget.

The foundation is another place to save money on your
construction costs. Using the same 2000 sq. ft. house as an
example, footings and foundation walls must be poured to support
2000 sq. ft. of deck for the living space. A two story would only
require enough walls and footings for a 1000 sq.ft. as the second
floor would be stacked on top of the first floor and utilizing
the same foundation walls. If both style homes have a full
basement its easy to see that the ranch is going to cost double
to pour a concrete floor. this cost is usually figured by the
square foot.

The third major cost saving phase is the roof system. A two story
home has half the roof. This means cutting the amount of lumber
in half. If the rafters for this structure are 2x10 or 2x12, this
can be quite a savings. Add in for the longer lumber lengths
needed for steeper pitched roofs like a 10/12 or 12/12 and the
savings become even more substantial. Also, when building this
type of home, only half as much plywood is needed to cover our
framing. With the rising costs of lumber, this is another good
reason to go with a two story home. The roofing materials used
is also affected. Again. only half the materials are needed to do
the job. This is another task that is figured by the square foot.

There are many ways to save money when building your own home.
These three parts of constructing a home are the major ways to
save. If you want more bang for your buck, consider a two story

(c) Mike Merisko 2006

Homebuilding: Laying Tongue and Groove Plywood

You have just finished framing the first floor deck for a brand new
home and your ready to start putting down the 3/4" tongue and
groove plywood. If you framed it well and got your 16" centers
laid out right, the process should go smooth as silk. The key to
success is in the framing of the joists.

The first step in laying plywood over the floor joists is to snap
a chalk line. This gives you a straight line to follow. I always
snap this line at 48 1/4" in off the edge of the rim joist. This
ensures that in the course of installation the plywood (which is
48" wide) will not hang over the edge of the rim joist. It
doesn't matter whether you start in the front or back of the
For best results, start where you have the longest run without a
jog in or out in the foundation.

After you have snapped your line, determine which joist the first
sheet of plywood will break. If the joists where laid out 16"
o.c. (on center) from the end of the building, the edge of the
plywood would split the joist at 8 feet. Sometimes the roof
layout determines the floor joist layout. This is usually the
case when the roof is a hip roof. In this instance start with the
joist that will allow the plywood to cover all the joists, even
if it hangs over the edge of the first joist. This will be cut
off later.

After you have determined where to start, apply construction
adhesive to the top edge of the joists. Apply no more than 48"
the width of the plywood. Lay the first sheet in the glue with
the groove edge on the chalk line. Holding the sheet to the line,
nail the leading edge of the plywood to the rim joist so it
splits the joist. You'll be covering 3/4 of an inch of the joist
with 3/4" exposed. Still holding the plywood to the chalk line,
put a nail in the rim joist at the first joist.
Now put nails in the rim joist where the floor joists are nailed
into it. When nailing off the field these nails can be used as a
guide to find the joists.

Now the groove edge can be nailed. On the leading edge, move the
joist so the edge of the plywood splits the joist. Once you have
the joist where you want it, nail the plywood to it. Now taking
your tape measure, hook the leading edge of the joist you just
nailed, and pull it along the edge of the plywood. Mark 16"
centers on the plywood and pull the leading edge of the joists to
this mark and nail them. This will help keep the joists in line
and will help make sure future course of plywood break on 16"
centers no matter which joist you start with.

Glue up the joists for the next sheet. Butt the next sheet to the
one previously installed, making sure to hold it to the chalk
line and nail the groove edge corner. Nail it to the rim joist
just like the first sheet. Once again move the joist so the
plywood splits it. Hook that joist with your tape, mark centers
and move the joists to the lines. Keep laying the plywood in this
fashion to the other end of the building.

Your now ready for the next course of plywood. If I've started
with a full 96" sheet on my first course, I like to start my
second row with a 48" piece. This works great if the building
length is in increments of 4 feet (24',28',32',36' etc.). This
isn't always the case. If the building is an odd length you can
usually use your ending cutoff to start the next course. Stagger
the joints a minimum of 32" apart.

Start the next course by gluing the joists. Do not apply the glue
more than 4' beyond the first course of plywood. Stand the sheet
on its tongue edge next to the groove edge of the sheet you are
standing on. Make sure its butt edge is lined up on the joist it
is breaking on and let it fall into the glue. As it hits the
glued up joists, step on it and try to pull it in with your foot.
Only under the right conditions will the tongue go completely
into the groove. Sometimes the sheet can be jumped into the
groove. This involves standing on the sheet and jump with force
towards the the sheets in the previous row. In most cases it
takes a sledgehammer and a 4' to 6' 2x4 beater block to persuade
the sheets together. The block keeps the groove edge from getting
damaged by the sledge. This is a two person operation. One stands
on the tongue edge of the plywood to guide the sheet into the
groove while the swings the sledgehammer. This will be the
process for the rest of the installation.

Once the piece is in place, nail off the tongue edge, making sure
the leading edge is breaking on a joist. Move the joist so the
groove edge breaks on the joist. Pull 16" centers from that
joist, mark the plywood, move the joists if necessary, and nail
them off.

To keep the joists at the ends of the building straight, do not
glue or nail them. Ideally we'd like the plywood to be hanging
over the ends. After all the plywood is in place, snap a line
from one corner to the other and cut this over hanging plywood
off. Move this joist to the cut edge to make it straight and nail
it off.

-Field can be nailed as you go (recommended to set sheet in
or after all plywood is in place.
-do not glue more than 4' out from sheet. Keeps glue off your
when you pull centers.
-When nailing groove edge, nail at least 2" from edge to keep
collapsing groove.
-Before installing plywood, check for damaged grooves and

Mike Merisko (c) 2006

Must Have Tools For Homebuilding

There are many tools that you must have handy when building a house
but there are a few that get used often in the building process.

I'll start with the obvious. A hammer. In this day and age, many
builders use compressors and framing nailers. The hammer still has a
place on the jobsite. Most carpenters still use the hammer to frame
floor joists, walls, ceiling joists and rafters. The feeling is that
they can draw connections tighter with a hammer. I'm in favor of using
a hammer for framing and using a nail gun to nail off plywood on
decks, walls and roofs.

Another obvious tool is the circular saw. I like to have at least two
on the job. one for me to do laying out of plates and roof cutting and
one for the crew to cut headers, cripples and whatever else they might
need it for. I prefer a worm drive saw. Its a heavier saw but I like
to use that to my advantage when cutting. I also like the fact you can
see the blade cut the line. Others prefer what is called a sidewinder.
The blade is on the other side of the saw thus the name. A righthanded
user will ususally find himself leaning over the saw to see the blade
and follow the cut line. This is a lighter saw so it may fatigue the
user less than a worm drive.

Layout tools. These include pencil, speed square, framing square,
chalk line, dry line and tape measure. Obviously the pencil is a
companion to most of the other tools for making layout marks and
lines. The speed square is used primarily to square lumber and laying
out plates for wall, floor joist, ceiling joists, and rafters. It can
also be used for rafter cutting layout but I prefer a framing
square,which I feel is more accurate. The framing square is also used
to square up wider lumber like 2x10's and 2x12's. Pages can be written
on the many uses of a framing square. I've even heard stories of guys
being able to figure their paychecks with one. A chalk line is a
necessity and is one of the first tools used to start building a
house. Lines are snapped on top of foundation walls, on decks for wall
layout and for cut lines on plywood, OSB and wall sheathings. A dry
line is used to keep things straight. Its used to straighten tops of
walls, basement steel, and hip rafters among other things. Last but
not least is the tape measure, the most important of the layout tools.
It would be impossible to build a house without it.

There are also what I like to call lifting and persuading tools. A
handy tool to have on site is a prybar. On my jobs its primary
function was to lift a wall to put a 2x4 block under the top plate.
This is for finger room when it is time to lift the wall. The main
persuader on any job is the sledgehammer. Also called a trim hammer
for moving that heavy wall that last 1/8th of an inch to the line. I
also like to use it to tap a wall square before sheathing it. Another
necessary use for the sledgehammer is to tap tongue and groove plywood
decking together.

Don't forget the erasers. Sometimes we make mistakes. Thats why we
keep nail pullers (cats paw) and a sawzall or reciprecating saw on
hand. I prefer the sawzall. I like to cut the nails rather than pull
them. I feel its quicker and makes for a cleaner job.

Don't forget a 4 foot level. I almost did. This is considered a layout
tool. You'll need one to level interior walls to brace them off and to
install window and doors. Other than this thats almost all you'll need
it for except for an occasional check for plumb and level.

With the above mentioned tools, you've got what you need to build a

(c)Mike Merisko 2006

Homebuilding: Setting Basement Steel

One of the first steps in the construction of a new home is
setting the steel beams and columns in the basement and/or crawl
space. This supports the floor joists and usually runs the length
of the house at mid span in most homes. Not only does this system
support the floor, but usually has the weight of bearing walls,
ceilings, second floors, second floor bearing walls and sometimes
roofs transfered down to it.

The first step is to install the sill plates on the foundation
wall. This gives you a place to nail 2x4 bracing to hold columns and
beams in place while you install them. Once set in place these
braces hold the steel till the floor joists are nailed in to take
their place.

Before I continue, a word of caution. Homebuilding can be a
dangerous activity. Care and safety are a must in all phases of
the construction process. Setting steel definitely falls into
this category. Beams can weigh anywhere from 100 to 400 pounds
depending on their size and length. Beams can be lifted into
place manually but I would recommend the use of a crane. Not only
can the beams be put in place safely, but it can also quicken the

With the sill plates in place the steel can be set. One end of
the first beam typically starts in a beam pocket formed into the
top of the foundation wall. The other end sits on top of a lally
column. A typical column is 3 1/2" in diameter and filled with
concrete. It has a flange welded to the top with holes in it that
match holes in the bottom flange of the beam. The beam is lowered
onto the column and then bolted together.

To make this happen, I like to use four people. One to hold the
beam in the pocket, one to hold the column, one man on a ladder
to guide and bolt the beam onto the column and one man to nail
off bracing to sill plates. Braces (2x4's) are laid flat on the
bottom flange of the beam on both sides of the web and then
nailed to the sill plates on opposing walls.

The next beam is now ready to be set. With one person holding the
next column, the next beam is lowered onto the new column and the
previous column. Men on ladders guide it into place and bolt it
down. Again 2x4's are used to brace the beam to the outside
foundation walls. This procedure is repeated until you get to a
beam pocket at the other end of the building, or a column that
terminates at an opening.

To keep beams level and straight, I like to use a dry line from
beam pocket to beam pocket (this can also be done with a laser).
First I drive a nail in the sill plate corresponding with the
edge of the beam. Most beams run pocket to pocket. If this is the
case I'll drive a nail in the plate by that pocket at the same
dimension as the first nail, measured from a common reference
point, usually the front or back sill plate. I now have a
reference point to line up the edge of the beams with and result
in a straight installation.

Assuming the foundation and sill plates are level, this string
can be used to level the steel beams (again, a laser can be
used). After most beam installations a 2x plate is either bolted
or shot with a powder actuated tool to the top of the beam. This
is to bring it level with the sill plates and to provide nailing
for the floor joists. Using a 2x block as a gauge, lay it on the
top of the beam where it sits on a column. This simulates the
plate that will be installed later. Shim the column till the
block touches the bottom of the dry line. Repeat this for every
column. Columns are shimmed with steel plates of various
thicknesses. These shims are provided by the steel supplier.

The next step is to plumb the lally columns on their concrete
pads. Using a 4-foot level, the columns are tapped into plumb
with a sledge hammer. Make sure the steel shims remain under the
columns. After all columns are plumbed up, the concrete floor can
be poured. This holds the columns in place.

The next step is to frame the floor. Once the floor joists are
nailed in place all bracing can be removed. The joists are now
holding the steel in place.

Just like the foundation, setting the steel straight and level is
important to producing a quality home.

(c) Mike Merisko

Homebuilding: Installing Sill Plates

When building a house, installing the sill plates correctly
will determine how straight and square the finished product
will be.

Hopefully the concrete contractor did his job and left you
with a reasonably straight and square foundation. A good
concrete contractor can make a framing contractors job of
building a house a piece of cake. Even if the foundation is
slightly out of square, a good framing contractor can adjust
his sill plates and correct the problem.

When laying out the sill plates, snap chalk lines on the
biggest square of the foundation. This will usually be the
main part of the house. After snapping the front or back and
one side, check for square. This is easily done by using
the 3-4-5 method. Measuring 3' from the corner on the side,
and 4' from the corner on the front or back. Make a pencil
mark on the chalk line at these dimensions. Measure the
distance between these two marks on the diagonal and if
perfectly square will equal 5'. If it is not square, adjust
the shortest of these two lines so that your measurement
equals 5'.

Once squared these lines can be used as a reference point to
square and keep paralell other sections of the houses
foundation, like a garage or sunroom. By using the biggest
square portion of the house, your work will be more

After your chalklines are all snapped, your ready to lay the
sill sealer and sill plates. The sill sealer is put on top
of the foundation wall first. This material comes in two
forms. One is very similar to fiberglass wall insulation
except thinner and with the same kraft paper backing. The
other is a 1/4" foam similar to laminate flooring
underlayment. Both materials come in widths to accomadate
2x4 and 2x6 sill plates. I prefer the foam sill sealer for
its ease to work with and what I feel will keep drafts and
moisture from penetrating under the sill plate better. Both
sealers are installed butting up to the chalk line to the
inside of the foundation wall. Both are pushed down over
the anchor bolts till it pops through the sealer.

The exterior finish determines the placement of sill plates
on the foundation wall. If the exterior finish is siding,
the sill plates will finish flush with the outside of the
foundation wall. In this case I like to measure in the width
of my sill plate, 3 1/2" for a 2x4 and 5 1/2" for a 2x6. If
the exterior finish is brick, the sill plate will be 4 1/2"
from the outside edge of the foundation wall.

Holes must be drilled in the plates to install them over the
anchor bolts. These 2x plates are usually required to be
treated lumber to resist rot. To locate the bolt hole in the
2x, put the plate up against the anchor bolts. Using a speed
square or a combination square, put the square on the edge
of the 2x and against the anchor bolt. Hold your pencil
against the squares edge with the lead 1/4" away from the
blade of the square and draw a line. This will give you the
center of the 1/2" anchor bolt along the length of the 2x
plate. to get the center off the edge of the plate, measure
from the chalkline to the center of the bolt. This will give
you the location to drill the holes in the plate. Drill a
3/4" hole in the plate. This allows some wiggle room to drop
the plate over the anchor bolts which are not always
straight up and down.

Once the holes are drilled in the plate, bolt it down with a
washer and hex nut. Continue the process by butting the next
plate to the one just put down and locate the next set of
holes, putting the sill sealer down ahead of the plates. Toe
nail all joints where the plates butt one another.

This is an important step when building a new home. By
installing the sill plates straight and square, it gives a
solid reference to follow when framing the rest of the

(c) Mike Merisko

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Simple Layout And Framing Of Walls

Framing walls is known in construction as rough carpentry. This
has always seemed to me as a contradiction of terms. The framing
holds the skin (drywall, sheathing, siding) and has the buildings
life lines running through it (plumbing, electric, heating, A/C,
telephone, and cable). Like the skeleton is to a body, as are
framed walls to a house.

When laying out walls, care must be taken as to where they are
placed. Finishes that will be applied must be considered in the
mix. If a room is to finish 12' x 12' and the wall finish is 1/2"
drywall, then the rough (there's that word again) dimension
between walls must be 12'1" x12'1".

Wall stud placement must also be considered. They cannot be
placed just anywhere. To understand how important this placement
is, one must know the materials that are applied to the framing.
Most common building materials come in 4 x 8 sheets. These sheets
are usually applied with the 4' horizontal and the 8' vertical.
The most common layout for wall framing is 16" centers. When laid
out and framed correctly, the edge of the drywall or sheathing
will break on the center of the studs in 4' increments.

The first step to laying out a wall is to find 2 straight 2x4s
and cut them to the length of the wall. Your now ready for the
stud layout. If your building perpendicular to an existing wall,
lay the 2x4 plates next to each other and flush the ends. Hook
your tape measure on one of the plates and make your first mark
at 15 and 1/4". This will be the leading edge of your first stud.
This puts the center of the stud at 16". Continue marking the
rest of the wall studs in the same manner. The next one would be
at 31 and 1/4", then 47and1/4", then 63 and 1/4" and so on. This
puts the center of the studs at 32", 48", and 64". Most tape
measures have 16" centers highlighted in a color to make this
easier. Once you have your stud locations marked, use a square
(combination or speed) to draw a line across both plates. Put an
"X" to the right side of this line. This indicates where the stud

If there are doors, windows or wall intersections in the wall,
these get laid out first. Sixteen inch centers are then laid out.
Door and window openings can be moved so its stud or cripple stud
is on the 16 o.c. layout. This saves or eliminates a stud.

Framing follows the same rules. Frame wall intersections first,
then door and window openings. It can be tough to frame these
items if the wall studs are in the way.

Wall layout is a simple process and once you do it a couple times
you'll see just how easy it is. It will become even more clear
if you also install the drywall or sheathing also. It can be a
nightmare if the layout is wrong and the edges of the material
aren't breaking on the center of the studs.

A certain amount of care and precision must be taken to avoid not
having material breaking on the studs.

(c)2005 Mike Merisko

Installing Windows in New Construction

Installing a window in a freshly framed opening is one of the more simple tasks in a construction project.

Most new construction windows have what is called a nailing fin. These are found on vinyl or aluminum clad windows. This nailing fin is either vinyl or metal and has nail holes every 4 to 6 inches and about 1 and 1/2 inches wide. Nailing fins take the place of brick moulding which can still be found on primed wooden windows.

Not only do these fins make installation easier, but also make a better seal against water and air infiltration. These windows can be flashed if desired but not deemed necessary. A window that does not have the benefit of a soffit or porch roof above it may need flashing or a drip edge above it.

When getting ready to install a window, make sure the sheathing is not hanging into the rough opening. This could cut down the size of the opening and not let the window go into the opening. Once this is done, measure the rough opening to make sure the it is big enough for the window. You don't want to lift a heavy window to an opening only to find it won't fit. Rough openings are usually 1" wider and 1/2" taller than the window unit. Rough openings are spect and provided by the window manufacturer.

Depending on the size of the window, you'll need 2 or 3 people to install a window. One or two outside and one inside.

Once you know the window fits, lift it to the opening from the outside. Set it on the sill and push it into the opening until the nail fins hit the wall. Make sure none of the fins folded themselves back into the opening especially the bottom one. The person on the inside then centers the window in the opening. Then using a level, checks it for plumb and level, and applies shims where needed. You may also want to check the window for square, although a window that's closed and in the locked position usually is. The window can now be nailed in. My preference is roofing nails but 8d nails or cap nails will do the job.

If it is a standard jamb (4 9/16) another thing to check is how far it runs past the rough framing. This should be 1/2 inch. You'll also want to make sure the window operates properly. Double hungs should slide up and down easily and casements should crank in and out without hanging up.

(C) 2005 Mike Merisko

Framing a Gable Roof

There are many styles of homes that are built with gable roofs. It is the simplest roof of all to frame. It is also the most common roof built for that reason alone.

All the rafters cut for a gable roof are all cut to the same length. The birdsmouth, which is the cutout that sits on the top plate, is located in the same place on all rafters. The overhang, if there is one, is also the same.

The ridge board, which is usually a 2x, runs the full length of the house. This can be cut ahead of time and have the rafter layout marked on it. The rafter layout usually matches the wall stud layout. This transfers the roof load down to the foundation.

Before any framing begins, some of the plywood that will be used for roof sheathing is laid across the ceiling joists the whole length of the building. This gives the carpentry crew something to comfortably stand and walk on during the construction of the roof. It's also a good idea to pass all the roof plywood up to the ceiling joists. This makes passing it up to the roof much easier.

Next, pass the ridge board(s) up and lay them on the plywood walkway, making sure the layout is going the right way and matches the wall layout. Now pass the rafters up. Lay them with the plumb cuts on the plywood and the tails on the top plate. If the house is a ranch, the rafers can be leaned against the wall between ceiling joists to keep them from sliding of the wall. Send up a couple of 2x4's for bracing and you are ready to frame.

Before the ridge board is even raised, nail two rafters to one side, nailing on the first one and the last one on the layout. The ridge can now be raised. Pull the ridge so the birdsmouths are tight to the wall and raise it high enough so the level cuts of the birdsmouths are flat on top of the wall. Once the rafters are in place tack them to the wall. Now nail two rafters on the other side of the building to the top plate. These will also be the first and last rafters on the layout and will mirror the ones you put up on the other side of the building. Raise or lower the ridge so the top of the plumb cuts on the rafters meet the top edge of the ridge. If the rafters where cut correctly,
the plumb cuts should fit snugly against the ridge with little or no gaps.

With the ridge in place, install a stud in the gable end from the ridge down to the top plate, using a level to plumb it up. Take one of the 2x4 braces and nail it near the top of the stud. Nail a block to the plywood walkway being sure to catch a couple ceiling joists. Now put the level on the 1 1/2" side of the stud and plumb it that way. When the stud is plumb, nail the 2x brace to the block. This will square up and position the roof where it needs to be. The rest of the rafters can now be installed, alternating from one side to the other, pulling the rafters tight to the wall and bringing the plumb cut to the top of the ridge. By alternating from one side to the other the ridge will stay straight. If one side is installed all at once, the weight will push on the ridge creating a bow. This will make it tough to straighten when the other side is put on.

After the roof is framed, collar ties, fascia boards, and overhangs are put on. With those items in place, the plywood can be put on. Frame in the gable ends and your ready for shingles.

Mike Merisko (c) 2006

Building Headers

One of the most important components in homebuilding
construction is the header. When framed in a wall, headers
span the spaces above doors and windows and bear the weight
of floors, ceilings and roofs above them. They are also used
in interior walls for doorways and where more open spaces
are desired between rooms.

Depending on the bearing load above an opening, headers can
be constructed of 2x4's on up to 2x14's or microlams. In a
standard 2x4 wall these elements are doubled up with a 1/2"
spacer between them and nailed together with 16d nails on
both sides. In homebuilding, the most common size headers
are usually 2x10 or 2x12.

Most headers for doors and windows are cut 3" longer than
the width of the rough opening. In a standard wall, a 2x10
or 2x12 header is usually nailed to the top plate. Next,
2x4's are nailed to the top plate and into the ends of the
header. Next two by (2x) cripples are nailed inside these
studs and under the header. These 2x4's are cut to the
height of the door or window. If it is a window, a 2x4 sill
is nailed to the bottoms of these cripples. The cripple is
then continued below the sill to the bottom plate. This
transfers the load from above the window to the floor and
onto the foundation.

For an example, lets say we are building a header in a 2x4
wall for a 36" wide rough opening. Take 2 pieces of header
material (2x10, 2x12 etc.) and cut them to 39". This allows
for the thickness of the 2x4 cripples(3"). Next cut a piece
of 1/2" plywood slightly less than the width and length of
the header. This is to keep it from hanging into the opening
and to keep it away from framing members. Sandwich the 1/2"
plywood spacer between the header material. Make sure to
crown the 2x's with the crown up. Before nailing the header
pieces together make sure the ends and bottom are flush.
Nail together with 16d nails, 3 nails top to bottom, 16
inches on center from one end to the other.

Rough openings are usually known well in advance of the jobs
start. Headers can be built before any framing even begins.
When building headers the use of a framing nailer can make
the task go faster and save wear and tear on ones arm.

Mike Merisko (C) 2006

How To Install A Prehung Door

Hanging a door these days is easier than its ever been. In the days before prehung doors, it took more tools and knowledge to hang a door than it does now.

Imagine getting a door slab, an unassembled door jamb, hinges and door hardware and having to do all the mortising, drilling, rabbeting on site.

No longer do you need an array of tools such as a drill, a mortising jig for hinges, strikes, and bolt plate. No jig for drilling the backset for the doorknob and bolt.

Nowadays all you need is a hammer and hard trim nails or a finish nail gun and some shims.

The first thing you need to do is check the opening you'll be hanging the door in for the correct size. It should be 2" bigger than the door size. Even though it's a rough opening it should be reasonably plumb and square.

If the opening was framed by someone else, you may want to break out your level and framing square and check this also. Drywallers sometimes believe the rough opening was meant for them and will let the drywall run into the opening. If this is the case use a drywall saw or sawzall to cut it back.

Once all the vitals have been checked your ready to hang a door. Prehung doors come assembled a couple different ways. They can be bought with trim already mitered and nailed on to one side and without trim. If there is no trim installed, I like to put it on before I put the door in the opening. The trim is installed on the hinge side.

Most doors open into a room and against a wall. When putting the door into the opening, try to put the door in the center of the opening. The door jamb should be able to move to the left and right in the opening. The gap between the door and jamb on the hinge side is usually about an 1/8" of an inch. This dictates the gap or space you should have all around the door. Move the door jamb to the left or right until you have that same space at the top. You then nail the trim on the top hinge side and the bottom hinge side. Then nail the strike side on the top making sure you still have an equal space. Nail off the rest of the hinge side with 3 or 4 more nails. The 2 nails already in the top are all I usually put in. Now nail the rest of the strike side starting at the top and working your way down, maintaining the same space as the top and hinge side.

Once the door is nailed into the opening on the inside, it's time to shim the door jamb. First, pull the door closed to make sure it hits the door stop evenly on the strike side. If it is hitting only at the top pull the hinge side toward you till it hits even. If it hits only at the bottom, push the hinge side jamb away from you till it hits evenly.

Once you get the jamb aligned put shims between the jamb and stud opening, being careful not to bow the jamb into the opening. If need be use a straight edge to keep it straight. I put shims behind every hinge and the strike and also at the top and bottom of the strike side. I nail these shims in with two nails, one on each side of the stop.

The next step is to apply the door casing to the outside of the door. Once this is done, your ready for the door hardware. If everything went right, the bolt should engage the strike plate and the door should fit snuggly against the stops.

(c) 2005 Mike Merisko

Cutting Rafters Easily and Efficiently

One of the most time consuming tasks in homebuilding can be
the cutting of a roof. In some cases it can take as long to
cut and frame the roof as it does to frame the rest of the
house. It can also require a lot of space to get the job
done. It is in ones best interests to plan ahead during the
course of construction to be ready when it comes time to cut
the roof.

Whether the roof be a simple gable roof or a complex roof
with multiple hips and valleys you want to be able to cut
more than one rafter at a time. Sawhorses become a valuable
commodity during the roof cutting phase of construction.
Cutting a half dozen or more rafters is what you want to try
for. To achieve this there are a few options available to
the roof cutter.

If you only have one set of horses, nail an eight foot 2x4
flatwise to the top of them. This will allow you to mark and
cut six or more rafters depending on their width.

The second option is to use two pair of sawhorses. Just like
the previous option, nail a 2x4 flatwise over the top of two
horses. In this instance you are not limited to an eight
foot 2x4. You can use an 8, 10, 12, or even a 16' 2x4
depending on how much room you have to work in.

The third option is to make your own sawhorses out of a
2x10. Put legs on it just like a normal sawhorse. Again,
your only limitation is what you have available for length
of 2x10 and how much room you have to work.

Another time saver is to make a rafter pattern. To do this,
pick the straightest piece if lumber you can find from the
rafter material. Once you have determined the length of your
rafter from the plumb cut to the birdsmouth, the depth of
the birdsmouth, and the length of the rafter tail, transfer
this information to the material. After you have marked all
of this on the 2x, carefully and accurately cut the rafter.
This is going to be your pattern for the rest of the rafters
so you want to be precise with your cuts.

The next move is to nail stops to the top of the pattern.
Cut two pieces of plywood about 6" long by 2 1/2" wide. Nail
one to the top of the 2x about 2" from the plumb cut,
letting it hang over both edges of the 2x one half inch.
Nail the other piece just above the birdsmouth. You now have
a pattern to mark the rest of your rafters without having to
measure each and every one of them.

When you are ready to start cutting the rafters, lay as many
boards on the horse as you can and have enough room for the
saw to fit inbetween each one. When laying the boards on the
horses, have all the crowns pointing in the same direction
(When looking down a board while flat most boards are bowed
one way or the other. The convex side would be the crown).
Take the pattern and lay it on top of each board with the
plywood stops resting on the crowned edge and mark them.

You are now ready to cut rafters. When making your cuts, cut
the pencil line. Cut the plumb cut first and then move to
the birdsmouth and tail. Depending on how many rafters you
are cutting you may have to slide them back and forth so you
are not reaching over to far to make your cuts with the saw.
When cutting the birdsmouth it is okay to over cut it to
totally remove the material.

Homebuilding and cutting rafters can be a dangerous job.
Always exercise caution and safety when framing or using a

Mike Merisko (C) 2006