Category Habitat for Humanity International



GLASS FIBERS CAN irritate your skin and damage your eyes and lungs, so safety precautions are very important when working with fiberglass insulation. Cover your body with a loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt and long trousers, and wear gloves and a hat, especially while insulating a ceiling (see the photo below). It’s best to wear a pair of quality goggles, too, because eyeglasses alone don’t keep fiberglass particles out of your eyes. Make sure the goggles fit properly; goggles that fit well don’t fog over. Wear a good-quality dust mask or, better yet, get yourself a respirator. Don’t scratch your skin while you’re work­ing (you’ll just embed glass fibers), and be sure to wash up well when you are finished.

Cutting Batts. Cutting fiberglass batts to size is straightforward. The best tool for the job is a sharp utility knife. Note that I said "sharp." A dull blade will tear paper-faced batts, and torn paper doesn’t work as a vapor barrier. A sheet of plywood or OSB makes a good cutting table. Place the insu­lation batt on the worktable, with the paper side down if you’re using faced batts. Measure where the batt should be cut and add at least Уг in. (it’s better for a batt to be a bit snug than to have a gap at
the edge or the end). Compress it with a straight board, then run the knife along the board, as shown in the photo above. Be careful with the utility knife. If it’s sharp, you don’t have to exert a lot of pressure. Keep the hand that is holding the board out of the blade’s path.

When fitting batts around windows, you’ll need to cut pieces to fit above and below the window. To speed the process of insulating walls, I mea­sure both spaces, mark their lengths on the cut­ting table, and cut as many pieces as I need. Don’t be sloppy with your cuts. Even small holes or gaps in fiberglass insulation can dramatically reduce its effectiveness.

Installing Batts. Batts faced with kraft paper have a foldout tab that should be stapled to the face of the studs or ceiling joists. The most common method of attaching faced batts to wood is with a hammer-type stapler and V^-in.-long sta­ples. Make sure the staples go in all the way, so that you won’t have problems hanging drywall later. Unfaced batts are held by friction between studs or joists until the vapor barrier or drywall is in place.

Safety on the Job WORKING WITH FIBERGLASS INSULATIONINSULATE THE CEILING. Be sure not to leave any gaps between batts that butt together. Heated air that enters the attic can cause severe moisture problems, especially in cold climates.

[Photo by Charles Bickford, courtesy Fine Homebuilding magazine. The Taunton Press, Inc.)

Подпись: BAFFLES PROVIDE SPACE FOR VENTILATION. On a flat roof or a cathedral ceiling, staple the baffles to the sheathing between framing members, then install the insulation. [Photo by Steve Culpepper, courtesy Fine Homebuilding magazine, ® The Taunton Press, Inc.)

say, 14 in. to 18 in. rather than just 12 in.—but it will save on heating and cooling costs for the life of the house.

Allow for ventilation space when insulating attics and ceilings

With insulation, the only time you can have too much of a good thing is when the ceiling or attic insulation blocks the roofs ventila­tion. As shown in the illustration on p. 204, there must be a clear pathway for air to move from the eaves to the ridge.

In the Charlotte house, we nailed OSB baffles in place on the walls between the roof trusses to prevent the attic insulation (blown-in cellulose) from spilling into the eaves and covering soffit vents. When a house has a cathe­dral ceiling, there is no attic space to fill with insulation. Instead, fiberglass batts must be installed between the rafters. Be especially careful not to block the ventilation space between the rafters. Various cardboard and foam baffles are available to provide venti­lation space and room for insulation accord­ing to the ceilings design. Staple the baffles between the rafters before installing the insu­lation (see the photo at right).

While you’re insulating the ceiling or attic, don’t forget the attic’s access cover or stairs. Rigid foam can be cut to insulate those open­ings. Using a compatible construction adhe­sive, glue several layers of foam on the top of the stairway or access hole cover (see the bot­tom left illustration on p. 130).


Подпись: ENSURING AIRFLOW ABOVE INSULATIONПодпись: STANDARD INSULATED CEILINGПодпись: InsulationПодпись: OSB or plywood baffles nailed between trussesПодпись:Safety on the Job WORKING WITH FIBERGLASS INSULATIONПодпись:Подпись: Cardboard or foam spacer (baffle)Подпись: CATHEDRAL CEILINGПодпись: InsulationПодпись: Vented blocks between raftersПодпись: Airflow-^Safety on the Job WORKING WITH FIBERGLASS INSULATIONПодпись:Insulating around obstacles

If all we had to do were to fill the stud and joist bays, then insulating would be easy. Problems often arise because of all the pipes, wires, light fixtures, and outlet boxes that are in walls and ceilings. For wires and pipes, cut a slice halfway through the batt and encase the pipe or wire in the insulation. Its important not to compress the batts. In cold regions,
make sure that you have insulation on the back of pipes (between the pipe and the exte­rior wall sheathing or siding) to keep them from freezing.

For electrical boxes, split the batt so that the insulation goes behind the box, as shown in the photos on the facing page. The front part of the batt can be neatly cut with a knife or scissors to fit around the box. Once the drywall is installed, you can use cover plates with a foam or rubber gasket over outlet and switch boxes to further reduce air passage.

Many recessed light fixtures generate so much heat that you have to leave a З-in., unin­sulated space around them. Don’t use these fixtures. Its much better to choose models that require no insulation gap. You can insu­late right up to and on top of those fixtures. Some states require that fixtures be airtight, too, so check with your building inspector.

Insulating walls and ceilings with fiberglass batts

The first thing to realize about installing fiber­glass insulation is that you can’t just shove the batts into wall and ceiling cavities any old way and expect them to do their job. Insulation batts must fit snugly between studs or joists and cannot be jammed in tightly or packed loosely and sloppily with gaps all over the place. Kraft paper-faced batts have tabs, which should be stapled to the face of the studs every 12 in. or so.

Many installers staple the tabs to the insides of the studs, which makes it easier to install drywall. However, I don’t recommend this approach. When the paper tabs are sta­pled to the inside of the studs, a slight gap is left along both sides. Gaps are absolutely taboo when you’re installing fiberglass insula­tion because they significantly reduce the insulating value.

If you plan to install fiberglass insulation in warm, humid climates (such as the south­eastern U. S.), buy unfaced batts (see the photo at right). Fiberglass insulation with kraft paper-facing acts as a vapor barrier on the inside of exterior walls, potentially causing moisture problems.

For partial bays (less than 14/ in. or 22/ in. wide between studs) and small spaces, such as over headers and under windows, insulation must be cut to fit. Measure the width and length of smaller bays and cut the insulation about к in. to 1 in. larger (no more!) in each direction so that it will fit snugly in the cavi­ties (see the sidebar on p. 202). You don’t need to staple smaller pieces of insulation in place; the snug fit should hold them until the dry – wall is installed.

While you’re insulating, keep in mind that another property of insulation is sound sup­pression. Given its relatively reasonable cost, you may want to use unfaced insulation in bedroom walls that adjoin a bathroom, living room, or utility room.

Take even more care when insulating the ceiling (see the top photo on p. 203). Any heat that escapes into the attic can cause snow to melt, possibly causing an ice dam on your roof. When insulation batts butt together end to end in the ceiling, make sure the joints are tight.

Because of the importance of keeping heat in the living area and out of the attic, I prefer using blown-in cellulose for the attic, even if the walls are insulated with fiberglass batts. Cellulose settles into and around gaps in the framing, forming what amounts to a giant down comforter over the entire living area of your house. And remember, it doesn’t cost much to add a few more inches of cellulose—


LIGHT, FAIRLY INEXPENSIVE, and easy to cut and Rigid-foam insulation gives you more flexibility install, rigid-foam insulation has a lot going for it. in meeting code requirements. Used in conjunction This insulation board comes in different thicknesses with high-density R-15 fiberglass batts in a 2×4 and sheet sizes. Depending on the manufacturer, wall, rigid foam can bring the R-value of a 2×4 wall it comes in shades of blue, green, and pink. A up to that of a 2×6 wall with standard R-19-rated Yz-in.-thick sheet is rated at R-3; a 1-in. sheet is fiberglass (without the expense of wider framing). If rated at R-5. you can afford it, adding rigid foam to the exterior

Exterior Use. Rigid foam is often used on build – of a 2×6 wall creates an even more energy-efficient ing exteriors. In regions where there is no danger house and lower utility bills, of earthquakes or hurricanes, foam sheets are fre – There are two important considerations if you’re quently used in place of wall sheathing. With this sheathing a house exterior with foam insulation, type of installation, sheets of plywood or OSB are First, some types of exterior siding (wood shingles still required at the corners of the house and every and clapboard, for example) are best installed over 25 ft. to provide lateral bracing for the structure; solid backing rather than over foam board. Second, however, foam boards are used between the corner if you’re installing rigid foam over plywood or OSB sheets and are nailed directly to the studs (see sheathing, make sure the jambs for the doors and chapter 6). Taping the seams between the sheets windows you order are wide enough for the wall, improves the foam’s performance as a wind barrier. Standard-width jambs may be too narrow.

I like to use foam insulation on the exterior of Installing the Foam. Working with rigid foam framed walls, because up to 25% of a wall’s area is simple. It cuts easily with a utility knife. To nail can consist of solid wood—studs, headers, trim – sheets to the wall, I use either 1%-in. roofing nails mers, and so on. Wood acts as a thermal bridge, or nails with plastic heads, which are used to secure allowing heat or cold to be conducted through a felt paper to the roof deck. In windy areas, I like wall. Rigid foam helps block this conduction. to nail about 12 in. o. c. around the edges and Sheathing with 4-ft. by 9-ft. foam panels enables 24 in. o. c. in the field. Make sure you fit the sheets you to cover a standard-height wall and the rim together tightly.


joist below it.

isn’t very helpful. In fact, doing so just elimi­nates much of the air space within the mate­rial, effectively reducing its value as insulation.

There are a number of materials used for insulation, but the three most common ones are cellulose, rigid foam, and fiberglass.

Subcontractors most often install cellulose insulation by blowing the loose material into attics with special equipment (see the sidebar on p. 199). When binders are added to cellu­lose insulation, it can also be sprayed in dampened form between studs. When it is

properly applied, the insulation stays in place after the moisture evaporates. Unlike fiber­glass insulation, which demands careful instal­lation to avoid gaps and air pockets, cellulose fills voids effectively, thanks to gravity (when blown into an attic) or air pressure (when blown into stud bays).

Rigid foam is often installed as insulation beneath concrete slabs and as sheathing panels beneath exterior siding (see the sidebar above). But fiberglass is still the most com­mon type of insulation used in this country


today. Affordable and available everywhere, fiberglass insulation does a good job when it’s installed properly (see the sidebar on p. 199).


IF YOU WALK DOWN the caulk and sealant aisle at any well-stocked hardware store or home center, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the variety of products available. For quite a few years now, the terms "caulk" and "sealant" have been used interchangeably. In technical terms, sealants are supposed to be more flexible than caulks, meaning that they are able to expand and contract with the movement of materials. But even caulk and sealant manufacturers have different definitions for these materials. For this reason, it’s smart to ask local builders and knowledgeable building – material suppliers which caulks and sealants are recommended for various jobs.

Although manufacturers haven’t cleared up the distinction between caulks and sealants, they have improved their labeling with regard to specific applications. For example, "painter’s caulk" is an inexpensive latex-type caulk that is primarily used to fill gaps in and around interior trim prior to painting. Caulk that is labeled "for kitchen and bathroom use" is waterproof and will adhere to tile, porcelain sinks, acrylic shower units, and other sur­faces found in those rooms. Silicone and urethane sealants are usually more expensive than acrylic or latex-acrylic caulks and are primarily used in exte­rior applications where extra durability, flexibility, and weather resistance are important.



THE TWO MOST COMMON TYPES of insulation used in homes today are fiberglass and cellulose. Both are partially manufactured from recycled materials. Fiberglass is made from 25% recycled bottles and other types of glass that are heated and spun into fibers. Cellulose insulation is made from 75% recy­cled newsprint which is treated with fire retardant.

Fiberglass comes in batts that are made in dif­ferent widths and thicknesses. For shipping and storage, the batts are rolled up like long, thick blankets. Loose-fill fiberglass insulation is also available, but batts are much more common. Cellu­lose is usually blown into attic spaces and wall cavities (see the photo at right). Blowers can often be rented at supply stores, but usually an insulation contractor is hired to install cellulose. Cellulose is somewhat more expensive than fiberglass but has a higher R-value per inch, so it can end up saving you more money in energy costs.

Like roof-shingle coverage, insulation coverage is calculated by the square foot. Add up the total square footage of the floor, the ceiling, and all the
exterior walls. Unless you have an entire wall of doors and windows, don’t subtract the wall open­ings. You may end up with a little extra insulation, but you can always put it in the attic.

If you’re buying insulation at a home center or an equivalent store, you’ll find the per-roll coverage on the label. If you’re buying it from a professional supplier, you simply need to provide the total square footage and whether the stud (and joist) bays are 16 in. o. c. or 24 in. o. c. That’s because fiberglass batts are either 15

in. or 23 in. wide and are sized to fit between studs and joists at conventional spacings. Long, uncut rolls work well between floor and ceiling joists. Precut sections are also available for stan­dard 8-ft.-high walls and save on installation time.

sufficient flexibility to maintain a seal even though the joint expands and contracts slightly. For advice on selecting caulks and sealants, see the sidebar on the facing page.

If you plan to use caulk or sealant to fill a gap wider than / in., its a good idea to insert a backer rod into the joint before you apply the sealant. Available where caulks and sealants are sold, backer rod is made from dense, com­pressible foam. When wedged into a joint, it helps seal the area and lets you apply a thinner bead of caulk or sealant.

STEP 2 Insulate the Walls, Ceilings, and Floors

Although the reason for sealing cracks and gaps in a house frame may be fairly obvious— you don’t want cold breezes (or hot air, depending on where you live) blowing through the house—the function of insulation may not be as evident. It is not to block air­flow but rather to create pockets of dead air. Air pockets do the actual insulating work, while the insulation fibers or beads simply hold the air in place. That’s why jamming fiberglass insulation into a too-small space

STEP 1 Seal Penetrations in the Walls, Ceilings, and Floors

When you think about sealing a house, remember how much frigid air can go through a small opening in a sweater or a jacket. Even a tiny hole in a woolen mitten can make your finger numb with cold. The same thing can happen in a house. We had single – glazed, double-hung windows in that old prairie home where I grew up. In the spring, the windows were nice—we could open them wide to let in fresh breezes and the songs of meadowlarks announcing warmer weather. In the winter, though, that loose-fitting sash was a fright. My mother gave us thin strips of cloth to stuff between the window frame and the sash in hopes of slowing the icy winds that would soon roll down from the north.

Today, we have the materials and the know­how to seal a house effectively. The materials and techniques vary, depending on the type of sealing work that needs to be done.

Sealing work begins early

Sealing a house to limit air infiltration and energy loss begins early in the construction process and continues until the last bit of insulation work is done. As explained in chap­ter 3, the mudsill should be sealed to the foun­dation with a resilient gasket material, known as sill seal, or with two thick beads of silicone caulk. Before the exterior walls are raised, it’s also a good idea to apply two beads of silicone sealant beneath their bottom plates. If this was

STEP 1 Seal Penetrations in the Walls, Ceilings, and FloorsПодпись: HOUSEWRAP ACTS AS A WATERPROOF WINDBREAKER. Tyvek and other modern housewraps are installed beneath the exterior siding. They block wind and water while still allowing vapor to pass through. [Photo ® Mike Guertin.]not done for some reason, you can run a heavy bead of sealant where the inside edge of the bottom plate meets the subfloor.

Once the walls are framed, its important to install insulation in the sections that will be inaccessible after the wall sheathing is applied. As discussed in chapter 4, these areas include the voids or spaces in the framing for corners, channels, and headers. Likewise, pay attention to areas where tubs and shower units will be installed in exterior walls. You don’t want the stud cavities in these areas to be blocked off before you have a chance to insulate them.

Part of a sealing strategy may include housewrap. Modern housewraps, such as Tyvek and Typar, are wrapped around the framed exterior walls and stapled over the exterior sheathing or (if exterior sheathing is not used) directly over studs and plates (see the photo at left). Housewrap is effective at stopping cold air infiltration during winter months. And at all times of the year, it serves as a drainage plane behind the exterior siding, directing water that gets behind the siding downward, instead of into the wall cavity. (For details on installing housewrap, see pp. 153-155).

Подпись:Подпись: Helping HandПодпись: Spray foam is sticky stuff. When applying spray-foam insulation, wear plastic gloves so the foam doesn't get on your hands. The foam is sticky and will stain your skin.

When installing windows and doors, apply a generous bead of sealant on the flange or the back of the exterior trim. Do this just prior to installation, as explained in chapter 6. Make sure that kitchen soffits and dropped ceilings (especially those with heating or cooling ducts inside) are completely sealed off from wall and attic spaces. Use drywall or OSB, and do it now, if you haven’t already. These steps help prevent moisture-laden indoor air from mov­ing into wall or attic areas, where it can con­dense and create major moisture problems.

Spray-foam insulation can handle a multitude of sealing tasks

Packaged in a pressurized can, foam insulation is extremely useful when it comes to filling gaps; sealing openings; and insulating narrow, confined spaces where fiberglass insulation doesn’t easily fit (see the photo at right).

Although it’s not cheap, spray-foam insula­tion is so helpful that I don’t build a house without it. It’s available in expanding and nonexpanding versions. I prefer the expanding type, because it does a better job of spreading out to fill voids. If you apply too much and the foam starts to expand beyond the intended area, don’t worry. Come back later, after the foam has hardened, and trim off the excess with a utility knife. Don’t try to wipe off excess foam when the material is still sticky; you’ll just create a mess. Here are some of the areas in the house where spray foam can be used:

IN HOLES IN BOTTOM PLATES. Use foam to fill the spaces around plumbing pipes, electrical or cable wires, and ducts that pass through the bottom plates of walls. It’s especially impor­tant to seal off these routes, which can bring cold air into your living space, when building on a crawl-space foundation.

IN HOLES IN TOP PLATES. It’s very important to seal holes in the top plates of walls. This helps prevent moist indoor air from entering a cold attic, where it can condense and cause moisture problems.

AROUND WINDOWS AND DOORS. I’ve often seen folks use a screwdriver or another narrow tool to stuff fiberglass insulation between trimmers and king studs (see the photo on p. 198). Although this helps to some degree, fiberglass insulation loses insulating value

Подпись:when it is compressed. Its better to insulate narrow spaces with foam insulation. The spaces between the window or door jamb and the rough opening can also be “foamed,” but be careful not to apply too much expanding foam in those areas. Since jambs are usually only}/ in. thick, the foam’s expansive action can cause them to bow inward.


your house has exterior faucets, seal the hole around each one with foam insulation. Holes for outdoor electrical lines and outlet boxes in exterior walls should also be sealed.

Caulks and sealants can be useful on small openings

For Filling small gaps (up to Z in. or so), caulks and sealants sometimes work as well as, or better than, foam. A good sealant has

Sealing, Insulating, and Ventilating a House

THE OLD HOUSE I WAS BORN IN STILL STANDS out there on the prairie. When I was a child, the house was simply unbeatable in the wintertime. We definitely spent more dollars trying to heat the house than we did on the mortgage. Nowadays, the house has new doors and windows, insulation in the ceiling, and a real heating system— not just an old iron stove in the kitchen. But there are still plenty of cracks and gaps in the walls for those ever-present western winds to howl through.

Thankfully, we don’t build houses like we used to. Today, there are materials and methods available that allow us to design and build energy-efficient houses that hold heat during the winter and keep it out during the summer. But attaining high levels of comfort and energy efficiency is not always a simple feat. In fact, it can be the most technically complex aspect of building a house.

The products that we use to seal, insulate, and ventilate houses may do more harm than good if they’re not installed correctly. Common problems include poor indoor-air quality, peeling paint on interior and exterior surfaces, moldy bathrooms, and rotten wood in walls and ceilings (see the photo on p. 194). Sometimes we solve one problem (such as cold air infiltration during winter months) and cause another

1 Подпись: STEP BY STEPSeal Penetrations in the Walls, Ceilings, and Floors

2 Insulate the Walls, Ceilings, and Floors

3 Install Vapor Barriers (if Necessary)

4 Provide Adequate Ventilation

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Sealing, Insulating, and Ventilating a House

Подпись:Подпись: Helping HandПодпись: Habitat houses are affordable now and later. At Habitat, we believe that affordable housing goes beyond cost-effective construction using durable materials. A house should be affordable to build and affordable to maintain. Energy efficiency is a must. A house that costs hundreds of dollars to heat and cool is not affordable.

(high concentrations of stale, humid indoor air, for example). And thanks to the significant climate differences in this vast country of ours, what works in Maine may be ineffective in Texas.

Although there is no standard approach to building a tight, comfortable, and energy – efficient house with good indoor-air quality, its not difficult to achieve those goals if you understand how a house works in terms of insulation, airtightness, and ventilation. This is especially true with the basic, affordable
houses that Habitat builds. This chapter explains the concepts, materials, and tech­niques to make your house comfortable, healthy, and energy efficient no matter what the temperature is outside. To expand your knowledge, see Resources on p. 278.

Before we dig into the technical details, here’s a final thought to keep in mind as you tackle the sealing, insulation, and ventilation work in your building project: Try to keep everyone aware of these important issues. When houses were built with simple materials, they were both leaky and energy /«efficient. People working in the trades didn’t really need to understand the work of those preceding or following them. To build a safe, energy – efficient, nontoxic house, everyone involved in its construction must have more knowledge and work together. Otherwise, a house that was perfectly sealed and insulated can be left riddled with holes by a plumber, electrician, or heating contractor who was “just doing his job.”

Sweaters, Windbreakers, and Rain Gear

Don’t worry; we haven’t suspended our home – building work to look through the L. L. Bean catalog. But what you already know about sweaters, windbreakers, and raincoats will help you understand the way sealing, insulating, and moisture-protection treatments work together in a house.

Start with a sweater and a windbreaker— just what you need to wear on a cold, windy day. A house exposed to frigid temperatures and icy winds also needs a sweater and a windbreaker. Insulation, exterior siding, and housewrap provide this protection. In fact, housewraps like Tyvek and Typar® act like a Gore-tex® raincoat, blocking wind and water while still allowing vapor to pass through.


MOST LOCALES have an energy code that defines how well insulated your house must be. Check with the building inspector in your community for this information. Rather than requiring so many inches of fiberglass or rigid foam, these codes define insu­lation requirements in terms of R-value, or resist­ance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating value. For example, code may require that exterior walls be R-ll or R-19. As it turns out, a 2×4 wall with fiberglass insulation designed for a 3V?-in. wall has an R-value of 11. A 2×6 wall with 5Уг-іп.-thick fiberglass has an R-value of 19. Don’t try to stuff R-19 fiberglass batts into a 2×4 wall, though. Carpenters say that’s like trying to stuff a 1000-lb. gorilla into a 500-lb. bag. It just doesn’t work.

Remember—code requirements set minimum standards. As far as building materials go, insulation is relatively inexpensive, so it’s often cost effective to install more insulation than what is required by code. A house with lots of insulation (in the attic, for example) will not only reduce your heating bill for years to come but may also save you money up front by reducing the size of the heating or cooling system you need to install!

This helps prevent moisture buildup, both in our clothing and inside the walls of a house.

As we work through the steps ahead, you’ll see that there are different sealing, insulating, and ventilation tasks that need to be done at different stages of the construction process.

Pay attention to the tasks associated with each phase of construction and your house will repay you with maximum levels of comfort, longevity, and energy efficiency.

Begin with the posts

The most difficult part about building any railing is making sure the posts are well secured to the deck or stairs. Remember:

People will be leaning against the railings, so make them strong. A post that extends up to the roof framing will be solid and secure.

Short posts that support only the railing are more of a concern. Railing posts should be evenly spaced across a deck or porch and no more than 6 ft. apart. A good height for a rail­ing is 36 in. to 42 in.

I like to notch railing posts to fit against the rim joist and on top of the decking (see the photo below). A notched post, installed with a couple of %-in. or l^-in.-dia. carriage bolts, makes for a strong and attractive instal­lation. For a 4×4 post, make notches I/ in. deep and long enough so the notched post can cover the full width of the rim joist. If the top

of the railing posts won’t be covered by a 2×4 or a 2×6 cap, consider letting those posts run a few inches higher than the top rail and cham­fering the top of each post. This technique, explained in the sidebar on the facing page, can enhance the appearance of any railing.

Posts for stair railings can be fastened to an

outer stair stringer. Use carriage bolts rather than screws for stronger connections. At the base of a long stairway, where extra strength is

required, the post can be anchored in concrete or to a steel post base embedded in concrete.

RAILS AND BALUSTERS. Once the posts are installed, cut and install the rails. I use PTor cedar 2×4 rails for most of my deck railings. They can be fastened to the outside or the inside of posts, depending on the overall design of the railing. Some builders even notch their posts to accept the rails. No matter which method you choose, secure each rail-to-post connection with two 3-in. deck screws. If your railing design calls for top and bottom rails, install the bottom rail ЗА in. from the deck.

If you like the look of the railing we installed on the Charlotte house, set up a chopsaw to cut balusters 31A in. long, with a 45-degree angle on the top to let water run off. Install the tops of the balusters 1 in. below the top of the top rail, and use 2H-in.-long deck screws to attach each baluster at both the top and the bottom. Using a gauge between balusters is helpful and speeds the process (see the bottom photo on the facing page). Just make sure you keep the balusters plumb as you attach them. Check every now and then with a 2-ft. level, and correct gradually, if necessary.

The handrail on a staircase should be about l A in. wide so that it can be grasped

Begin with the postsПодпись:Begin with the postsBegin with the posts

CHAMFERING THE TOPS of railing posts or the ends of beams is a nice finishing touch you can add when building a deck or a porch. A plain, square – topped post looks clunky. But in a few minutes’ time, you can give the post a more distinguished appearance. All you need is a Speedsquare™ and a circular saw. For best results, use a sharp, fine­toothed blade on your saw. If you haven’t tried this technique before, practice on a spare length of 4×4. Also, you may find it easier to make chamfer cuts "on the flat," with the 4×4 set on some sawhorses.

It takes a little more expe­rience with a circular saw to chamfer a post that’s already installed vertically. Here’s how to chamfer a post in four simple steps: Lay out the chamfer lines. As shown in the photo at left, a pair of lines, spaced about 1 in. apart, should extend around all four sides of the post. The upper line represents the length of the finished post.

Cut the post to length. Make a square – end cut to sever the post along the upper layout line. Two cuts from opposite sides of the post should do it

Make the chamfer cuts. Loosen the angle adjustment knob or lever ц on your circular saw, and adjust the cutting angle to 45 degrees. An exact 45-degree angle isn’t nec­essary, but be sure to tighten the adjustment securely. Now make an angled cut along each side of the post, follow­ing the layout line. If you have trouble maintaining a straight cut, clamp a Speedsquare to the post to guide the base of your saw. Another trick for ensur ing a smooth cut is to retract the blade guard with your forward hand before you start to cut.

Sand the post smooth. Use some 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough areas. You can also slightly soften sharp corners.

Begin with the postsПодпись:

easily as people go up and down. A 2×6 on edge can be used for a top rail. Position it so the top edge is 32 in. to 36 in. Plumb from the front edge (nose) of the stair treads.

Balusters for the stairs must be individually measured for length on this stair handrail.

Keep the tops of the balusters 2 in. below the top of the handrail, as shown in the photo at right. Screw the bottom of each baluster to the stringer. The area under the stairs (and under the porch) can later be hidden with 4×8 vinyl or wooden lattice panels.



STEP 6 Install the Railings

Most codes require railings only when a deck is more than 30 in. off the ground. But you may want to build a rail on a lower deck any­way, for appearance if not for safety. The basic structure of a typical deck or porch railing consists of posts, rails, and balusters, which are also called uprights or pickets.

Even with basic PT lumber, many designs are possible. For example, you can eliminate the bottom rail, extend the balusters down, and fasten them to the rim joist. You can

include a 2×6 “cap” installed over the tops of the posts and over the top rail. And you can use a chopsaw to bevel one or both ends of each baluster to give your work a sleeker appearance. There are even decorative FT balusters, along with shaped top and bottom rails that are grooved to hold baluster ends. Also available are quality vinyl railings that are attractive and maintenance-free. As I men­tioned at the beginning of this chapter, it’s worthwhile to investigate the design possibili­ties, so take a drive around your neighbor­hood and visit a lumberyard or home center that carries these building supplies. No matter what the design, make sure the railing meets code requirements (see the sidebar below).


POSTS, RAILS, AND BALUSTERS MUST BE PRECISE. The clean lines on a finished porch or deck depend on accurate railing installation. Here, the posts are notched to fit against the rim joist. The ends of the decking boards overhang beyond the rim joist, even with posts.

[Photo © Larry Haun.]


TO MAKE PORCH RAILINGS and stair handrails both safe and legal, you need to know the basic rules and regulations that dictate how they’re built. The specs below cover most areas of the country, but codes do vary from region to region, so always check with your local building department.


In most regions, any deck higher than 30 in. off the ground needs a railing.

Stairs with more than three risers (three steps) need a handrail.

Stairs that are 44 in. wide or more need a handrail on both sides.

The height of a handrail, measured from the nose front edge of the stair tread, should be between 32 in. and 36 in. The handrail should extend the length of the stairs.

The width of a handrail must be between 1 in. and 2 in. so that it’s easy to grab.

The railing height on a deck guardrail should be between 36 in. and 42 in.

The balusters used on porches and stairs should run vertically, so children can’t climb on them. The spacing between them must be 4 in. or less, so children can’t squeeze through.

The bottom rail must not be more than 4 in. above the deck.


STEP 6 Install the Railings

Hold balusters down 2 in. so handrail is easy to grasp.


4×4 4 in. from

post deck maximum

4-in. maximum space between balusters


Height of rail must be between 32 in. and 36 in.


Building codes regulate heights of rails and spacing of balusters. Check with your local building depart­ment for your area’s requirements.


STEP 6 Install the RailingsSTEP 6 Install the RailingsSTEP 6 Install the RailingsSTEP 6 Install the RailingsSTEP 6 Install the Railings

STEP 6 Install the Railings

STEP 6 Install the RailingsПодпись: CARRIAGE BOLTS ARE STRONG AND ATTRACTIVE. The rounded head looks appealing, and the bolt provides excellent holding strength for major structural connections.

STEP5 Install the Decking and Stair Treads

With the floor and stair framing complete, you can start installing the decking boards and stair treads. I mostly use 2×6 PT decking, because the ready supply of redwood decking disappeared along with the big trees.

Cedar decking is available in some areas, but at a premium price. More and more people are using plastic decking material or deck boards that are a combination of wood chips or sawdust and recycled plastic. Although the up-front cost of this high-tech decking is greater than that of PT wood, the new mater­ials don’t warp, crack, or require regular fin­ishing treatments to maintain an attractive appearance. They are worth considering.

If you’re installing wood decking, keep in mind that many boards have a tendency to cup because of their circular grain structure. If you see a curve in the end grain of a board, lay it so the curve forms a hill rather than a valley. Should cupping occur sometime in the future, water will run off rather than pool. Exposed PT or cedar decking needs to be treated with a good deck finish every other year or so.

Подпись: Helping HandПодпись: Anticipate wood shrinkage. Pressure-treated decking boards shrink after installation. If you allow for a Уз-in. space between boards during installation, expect that gap to be V* in. to % in. after shrinkage. If you want to end up with a smaller gap between boards, simply butt them together during installation.On narrow decks, the boards are often installed at a right angle to the house. I usually attach the first board on the end of the deck where the stairs are (or will be). Let the deck board overhang the end framing by about 1 in. I cut the boards slightly longer than the

Подпись:STEP5 Install the Decking and Stair TreadsATTACH THE STAIR TREADS. It takes two boards to form one step. With open risers, an outdoor stairway is easier to keep clean.

deck. With the boards a bit long, you can snap a chalkline and cut them off evenly so every­thing looks neat and proper.

I use 16d nails as spacers between wood decking boards. Placing one nail near the house and another near the edge of the porch maintains consistent spacing. Where a board crosses a joist or beam, drive two decking screws. Those steel screws have a galvanized or polymer coating that protects against rust, and their coarse threads drive quickly and hold much better than nails do. To install VA-in.- thick decking, use З-in. screws. To install 5/4 boards, 2A-in. screws will do. Although it takes a bit more time, I predrill the screw holes in the decking with a %6-in.-dia. bit.

This makes it easier to pull the boards tightly against the framing and just about elimi­nates the possibility of splitting a board.

When you reach about 6 ft. from the end beam, calculate how many more boards will be required to cover the distance, and check whether the distance is equal along the ledger and along the rim joist. You may need to fine-
tune the spacing between boards to restore parallel orientation and to make sure the final board is of a reasonable width.

Once all the deck boards are in place, snap a chalkline across the front edge about 1 in. from the rim joist, then cut them straight with a circular saw. Tack a lx to the deck to guide the saw and ensure a good-looking, straight cut. Take your time and do a good job. This is finish work, and it must look right.

Install the stringers and treads

If you’ve done the stair layout and cutting cor­rectly, the stringers should fit against the rim joist (or beam), with the level cut or cleat for the top tread located ТА in. down from the top of the deck framing. Snap or mark a line at I that level on the rim joist so you can make I sure the stringers are aligned. I

There are several ways to secure the I

stringers to a deck beam or rim joist. Some – I times the stringer butts against a post, so it I can simply be nailed to the post and to the I beam or rim joist. In other situations, a metal I strap can be nailed to the top of the stringer, I then to the beam or rim joist (see the bottom I photo at left). Still another option is to fasten I a PT plywood hanger board to the top plumb – I cut edge of each stringer, then nail the board I to the beam or rim joist (see the illustration I on the facing page). I

For a set of 36-in.-wide closed stringer I stairs, cut a hanger board 14 in. high and I

39 in. wide, then nail it flush with the top of I

the deck s 2×6 rim joist. Then measure down | 7Vi in. from the top of the rim joist, mark the 1 board on each end, and strike a line across it I at that height. Drive 8d galvanized nails I through the back of the hanger board and I into the stringers below the 2×6 rim, making sure the top of the upper cleats on both out – I board stringers and the top notch on the inte* I rior stringers land on the line you snapped on the hanger board. To stiffen the top of the I stairs, cut and install PT 2×4 blocking between the stringers.

Next, cut a 36-in.-long PT 2×4 kicker board I and nail it into the notch of the middle stringer and to the outside stringers. The kicker board

Install the stringers and treads

can be fastened to the concrete landing or base with hardened nails, steel pins, or con­crete anchors.

Now that you know how to build a simple set of stairs—a good skill to learn for its own sake—let me tell you about an alternative to wooden stringers. You can buy manufactured metal stringers with a 7-in. rise (see Resources on p. 278). This means that you will have to control the overall distance (from the concrete landing to the finished surface of the deck) so that its a multiple of 7—either 14 in., 21 in.,

28 in., or 35 in. I like metal stringers because they are galvanized and stand up well out­doors. Holes in the metal stringers allow you to attach treads with screws or small bolts.