Dressing up a stairway


There are a lot of poor quality contractors and carpenters out there, when people sign up for having handrails system installed on a stairway. They are surprised as to what was built. A Lot of contractors build a knee-wall 2”-3” above the tread, covered by a wood trim board and then the handrail system on top the trim board, because they don’t know how to install a exposed tread system.

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A cheap exposed tread system looks like this photo. What makes it look cheap is the skirt board. The reason is that it does not match the baseboard joining up with it.


If you have to put in an inexpensive knee wall over a handrail this is a quiet but elegant way of going about it.


If you have a smart carpenter use a 1”x 8” board and a piece of 5” tall base to make a custom make skirt board. Join them to together with a biscuit jointer and glue. Than run it through a surface planer and bring them down to the same thickness. A few minutes of light sanding, and your new skirt board is ready to be custom cut.


Not only can it be custom cut into the base, but you can make it follow up the staircase to the 2nd floor enhancing the look of staircase.

Stairways – a lot of carpenters can build good-looking stairways.

The question is; Can the stairway hold it’s own weight as well as the working load being put on it.

Osha requirements for a stairway;
From a design standpoint, the specified design loads (e.g., normal live load and moving concentrated load of 1000 lbs.) must be placed where the maximum stress is experienced by the individual structural components of the stair system.
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Looking at a framing section of a stairway the sawtooth cut boards are called stair jacks. Looking closer at a jack the deepest cut of the notch for the step into the jack to the bottom side of a jack if your using a 2” x 12” will be 3 1/2” to 4” of uncut material is equal to a 2” x 4” with this understanding we can calculate out what a 2” x 12” stair jack system can carry. With all lumber we do not measure the length of the steps from the top to the bottom but instead from the front edge of the step to the load bearing point that supports the top of the step. A wall height of 8’ and a floor joist of 9 1/2” will make the run of the stairjack 12’5”.

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A single 2”x 4” spanning 10’2” can only carry 10 Lbs. per running foot times 3 jacks a total of 300 Lbs. Nailing a 2×4 on the side of the jack doubles the working load to 600 Lbs. But on the problem above we are short 2 1/2 feet. Going to a 2” x 14” stairjack will leave a 2” x 6” amount of material left this will carry a 20 Lbs. 12’9”
With 3 Jacks the total dead and live load for this stairway is now 12.75 x 20 x 3 jacks= 765Lbs. adding 3- 2” x 6” on one side of the Jack doubles the load 1530 Lbs. This is now a legal working stairway for wood steps.

The problem now comes in when the homeowners want stone on the treads and risers. The weight alone is 32 Lbs. per SF or 1153.1 Lbs. for this stairway. And it only leaves 377 Lbs. for live load. Changing and using a LVL or a micro laminated beam works much better. Using a 1 3/4” x 14” LVL beam with a 12’9” span will carry 68 per SF. X 3 Jack you a total working load of 2601 Lbs. this passes with flying colors. This gives you a live load of 1448 Lbs. Or in other words, you can have 6 adults sitting or standing on the stairway for a group photo and it will not wince.

Columns were are they to be used

Installing architectural elements IE columns are a way to bestow grandeur, or an air of formality, reverence, and ha for ones surroundings. If your looking for a quiet place to read, or review documents having columns quiets the room down. When people enter they become respectful of the area. Installing columns in a formal dining room is saying to the guests that bar room manners are not welcome, and this is not a picnic ground, so put on your good behavior.
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If your looking for a light hearted atmosphere to dine with children this is not the room for columns.
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Columns make a person take note of their surroundings that something has in the past, present, and/or near future will be happening in this place.

Going back to theses homes I have installed these columns, It bring me back to the meeting that I had attended in these rooms over the years.

Installing cheap columns or ones that are improperly built cheapens the room, which sends a massage to the people coming in seeing them actually ignore the fact columns are there, even thought they have to step around them as they walk through the house.
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Mold what does it look like?

Mold comes in to the house in many ways. Always when there is water present.
1. Exterior water – infiltration (through the siding or the roofing)
Improper installation of the siding – no building paper or a house wrap was installed. Roofing again improper installation of roofing and flashing allowing the rainwater into the building shell.

2. Exterior water – under ground.
High level of ground water is big problem pushing hydrostatic pressure against the foundation wall, forcing the water into the foundation. The causes of high level of water are over watering the garden next to the foundation, rainwater coming off the roof then runs to the foundation. Following the wall downward adding to the ground water. Basement floors that have pour, or not properly installed drainage system can have 50 gallons of water evaporating in a 1000 SF basement per day


3. Interior water – leaking pipes and/or sweating pipes
4. 4. Interior water- high humidity comes from cooking, showers, people them selves sweat and put a lot water into the air.
When humidity levels go above 65% mold has the ability to start growing. The higher the humidity above 65% with temps above 68°, the quicker the mold responses to it environment. Lets look at a Refrorator very high humidity but low temps the mold is held in check because of the low temperature.
This time lets look at the cabinet under the sink there is a leak about a drop per minute. The temp in the house is 70° and the humidity is 45%. But in the cabinet the temp is 68° and the humidity is 80% or better. The house air has no way to dry out the cabinet allowing it reduce the humidity, therefore in about 1 week mold will start to grow. In one year the entry interior sink base cabinet will be covered in mold. Now lets apply this to a stud cavity, humidity get trapped between the exterior wall sheathing and the interior sheetrock or finished surface. But this time you have no idea it’s happening and no way to check on the condition of the framing. Using a porous type of insulation in your stud spaces on the exterior walls is like begging for mold to inhabit you home on all sides of you.

Exhaust fan problems I presume?

My heating contract was called into a house that was about 8 years old. The homeowner had a unique problem. In the master bedroom was located on the 2nd floor the toilet bowl was frozen and the bathroom temperature was 70°. The contractor though at first this was a joke. The owner insisted that he wanted the problem fixed. With a little bit of looking around the contractor saw the bath fan right above the toilet bowl. But the real problem was in the attic the exhaust vent from the exhaust fan was not insulated. With the out side temperature of –20F below. What happened the air inside the exhaust pipe being cold (and cold air is heaver than warm air) dropped from the ceiling fan and fell into the toilet because the husband left the toilet lid up the night before, Allowing the cold air to collect in the toilet bowl and actually freeze the water.

Another job site the homeowner had a new roof put on 6 months earlier and had the attic reinsulated. The first cold morning about –15 below 0 with a hot shower the ceiling fan started dripping water. So he called out the roofer to fix the problem, it was not the roofing but instead the exhaust fan piping again was not insulated. While the high humidity was being blown out and the metal piping was below 0 the humidity was condensing rapidly on the piping, then run back into the ceiling fan, through the vent louvers and end up dripping to the floor.
You have to insulate the entire exhaust vent to the exhaust point.

Close quarters

We built an addition between the house and garageThe owner wanted to put an addition between the house and the garage. The space between the house and the garage was 26’4″, City hall said we had to stay 1′ away from the garage with the addition.

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The foundation wall and the framing walls was set at 12″ apart. Adding the siding to both the garage and the addition walls, the space between is now 9″.
Separating foundations

The house’s foundation was down 7′, while the garage only had a floating slab. To get the foundation in, we had to dig down 7′ and remove the soil. The soil we were digging in was sand. Digging this close to the garage the sand under garage will slide out fast and up 7′ away from the garage under mining the garage, then the garage floor will break, this will bring the broken slab and some of the garage wall framing into the excavated hole. to solve this problem we built a shear wall to hold sand from shifting and sliding, keeping the garage safe.

Septic systems and how they work

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Raw sewage (black water) flows from the house to the first of 2 septic tanks. The weighs are trapped in this tank where they brake down. Once the liquid drains 2 a 2nd tank and some heavies or sediment was able to leave the first tank the 2nd tank catches it. When the liquid leaves the 2nd tank its now call gray water ready to the drain field.

picture-83.jpgWhen entering the drain field the gray water runs through the lateral pipe to each of the drain beds equally. Each bed has 4″ pipes with about 2 -1″ holes every 6” allowing the gray water to spread into the river rock. Where the drain field does its work is not in the rock but on the edge of the rocks and the meeting of the sand a 1/8″ membrane is formed that eats the bacteria out of the water.

Once your drain field is installed do not hurt or damage the edges of the sand and rock bed of your drain field.

Blunders-wet basement

I was called to a house in the summer of 2003; the homeowners built the house.
They called with a problem of water in their basement. When I got there, they had a new swimming pool in the basement. The county required a perk test done the property.

This was to tell which type of sewer system is required.

  • In ground standard.
  • Mound system.
  • On this lot because of high level of ground water a mound system was required.

    When it was time to build about 3 months later being a dry summer they dug 3 1/2 feet below the drain field system, to set the footings.

    The next 2 years were dry. But the spring of 2003 was a couple of wet months above average rainfall that spring and they had 3′ of standing water in their basement.

    Saved about $20,000.00 on construction fees, and lost about 26’x 42′ area in a lower level or lost about $54,600.00 resell value.

    Saved about $20,000.00 on construction fees, and lost about 26’x 42′ area in a lower level or lost about $54,600.00 resell value.