Carl Seville and his wife are building themselves a new home in Decatur, Georgia. The first blog in this series was titled The Third Time’s the Charm. Links to all of the blogs in this series can be found in the “Related Articles” sidebar below.
Once we finished all the foundation and termite protection work describe in my last post, we were ready to start framing. Before we hired the framing trade contractor, I reviewed my requirements with him, including advance framing and close communication, and I looked him in the eye and said I was looking for a quality job and was willing to pay for it — I didn’t want an industry standard, crank-it-out-fast crew.
He agreed, but proceeded to send out the wrong crew. My initial impression was good, possibly because their leader spoke fluent English, which is often a rarity in our area. This impression was quickly changed as it appeared they had not been properly briefed by their boss on my requirements. They built hollow headers instead of pushing the framing to the exterior. They installed extra, unnecessary cripple studs under window sill framing, after I requested they leave them out. Doors and walls were framed incorrectly. Walls were out of plumb.
What finally got to me was the floor joist installation. Although I did not need the pre-cut duct holes in the I-joists, they came with 2 holes in each one. The framers decided to ignore them and install the joists with many of the holes misaligned. I pointed this out to them as soon as they started, but not only did they not correct the mistake, they continued to do the same thing on the next set of joists they installed. Luckily I don’t need the holes for ductwork, but it does look pretty amateurish.
After two days of struggling to get what we wanted, their boss pulled them off the job — something I expect pleased them as much as it pleased me. The replacement crew showed up a couple of days later, and although the results haven’t been perfect, they are much better. There are still some details I don’t care for, but overall their work has been much better, and they have listened to our concerns and, in general, framed the house the way we wanted.
OK, enough whining — down to the details
On the bright side, the house does include all the advanced framing details I requested: 2-stud corners, ladder-T walls, right-sized headers, , and decking on the second-floor ceiling joists to serve as the air barrier on top of the house. Zip sheathing was installed on top of the 9-inch I-joists we used for the top floor ceiling before the roof was framed.
Corners between the wall and ceiling sheathing were taped before the roof was framed (see Image #2, below). Before insulation is installed we will tape the balance of the attic decking, creating a complete and continuous air barrier from the sides to the top. Combined with tape between the bottom of the wall sheathing and the foundation, there will be minimal air leakage without using spray foam (except for some foam to seal around windows and doors).
I plan to do a blower-door test as soon as all the mechanical work is complete to see how tight the envelope is, and identify any areas requiring additional air sealing.
Windows will be arriving in the next week. We selected the Pinnacle aluminum-clad wood series from with simulated divided lights. Glazing is low-e 366, providing a U-factor of 0.30 and a SHGC of 0.18 — about as good as we need in Climate Zone 3. Lower values would not have provided enough return on investment to justify the initial cost. The windows will be installed using on the sills and standard Zip tape over the top and side flanges.
Next will be plumbing rough-in. I have located the water heater in a central mechanical closet, allowing me to install a short home run to each hot water fixture. The plan is to use a ½-inch PEX insulated hot water line directly to each bathroom, the laundry, and the kitchen to minimize any water waste.
Fixtures and fittings will be coming from . I am currently trying out several Watersense shower heads to determine which one I like the best.
I expect to be on site a lot when the plumbing is being installed to make sure the hot water system is installed properly.
Following plumbing will be HVAC and electrical roughs; reports on those installations will be forthcoming.
Getting the right framing crew on site was a frustrating process, reminding me yet again why I got out of the construction business. In a construction climate where any trade can charge whatever they want and behave however they like, it is challenging to find the right team, let alone anyone, to do your work.
A friend of mine recently told me a story he heard from one of his production builder clients. The supervisor was driving through a subdivision and came upon one of his subcontractors urinating in the middle of the street. When the super asked him what he was doing, his reply was, “What are you going to do, fire me?”
We will aim to do some better vetting on the next trades, particularly the interior and exterior trim crews. Preparing clear scopes of work combined with detailed drawings is only half the battle of getting what you want out of trade contractors. The rest involves supervising the work closely and making necessary adjustments frequently to keep things on track.
And people wonder why high-quality construction costs so much…