Category Archives: Homebuilding

Efficiency in Homebuilding Using Pre-manufactured Components

This won’t be news to big-time homebuilders in the tract-housing trenches, but for a small-time, detail-oriented construction firm in a small market, using pre-manufactured components  on our current project has really improved our efficiency and, frankly, our quality of life as carpenters.

Truss joists

Manufactured truss joists — 24 foot clear span.

The architects for this project spec’d truss joists, and it is the first time that we’ve installed this product. Because of the engineered load-bearing nature of this type of floor system bearing walls and beams are eliminated in favor of clear-span floors — significantly speeding up the vertical progress of the home. The definition of lightweight construction, 24 foot joists are light enough for a single carpenter to maneuver around the site. The plumbing and electrical contractors will appreciate the open nature of the truss construction, speeding installation.


The very top of the roof trusses. The mountains are nice too.

Roof trusses are, again, nothing new to most builders. However, given the low overall project volume of the company that I work for, we’ve had occasion to frame roofs traditionally as frequently as to use trusses. While their outright size and weight necessitate having a machine on site to lift the trusses to the top plates, this inconvenience is mitigated by the speed with which the roof framing can be accomplished. We’re framing a house in January, in the Northern Adirondacks, so speed and simplicity are a real bonus. Even given the less-than-ideal consistency from truss to truss they are less aggravating to install than sawn 2×12’s.


Pre-cast concrete piers for deck footers.

Finally, another new product to our crew, pre-cast concrete footers. The overall design of the home is very straightforward — it’s a rectangle. The home does have a bump-out mudroom, breezeway, deck, and screen porch, however, and all of these “exterior to the footprint” components are supported by piers. On past projects we would have set sonotubes and mixed concrete by hand: tedious, time-consuming work. While the number and location of piers was significant and complicated, the work could be accomplished quickly and accurately by one person (in this case, the boss) and a small back hoe. Further functionality and efficiency will be realized while framing on top of these piers as threaded anchor nuts are cast in place.

I’m writing about my day job here because this topic furthers my interest in best building practices and efficiency in my work life. In this case the company  performing the work is not Guenther Woodworking, but Crowl Construction, of Keene, New York. Brian Crowl can be reached at If you’re looking to build in the greater Keene region of the Adirondacks, this is the company to call.

Building houses is boring!

I’ve been hoping to augment the blog with some of my recent home building work. The truth is, building houses is by-and-large boring, methodical work. Details are important, and careful work counts for a lot in contemporary construction. But two weeks of cathedral ceiling insulation? Boring.

Don’t throw away the pieces!

Occasionally, even with all due care, a “value-added” piece of woodwork gets broken.

This shot is a close-up of a repair to a broken 12′ long, multi-window sill that I spent quite a bit of time scribing to fit. While maneuvering the nearly finished piece into the room where I was fitting it, I inadvertently bumped the sill into my workbench. The piece failed from the corner of the notch visible in the photo below, and followed the short grain — a clean split.

Headphones thrown, curses uttered. Calmly put the woodwork down and step away! Don’t throw away the pieces!

If I had taken out my frustration on the workpiece I’d have been out over an hour’s worth of work, as well as the only quality piece of stock on the jobsite. Instead, the glue bottle, some clamps, and overnight rest yielded a perfectly serviceable sill, with a nearly invisible repair. Probably stronger than the original.

Simple repair to a "catastrophic" failure

Simple repair to a “catastrophic” failure

Air Sealing in Contemporary Stick Frame Construction

Day to-day my primary vocation is homebuilder. In the small company that I work for we do everything aside from concrete, plumbing, and electrical. The control afforded by doing all the finish trades ourselves allows us to take the time required to focus on the energy efficiency details that are so important to contemporary construction best practice.

Among the details that we’ve been focusing on, air-sealing the building envelope holds our focus most consistently. In a heating climate any uncontrolled air movement from the conditioned/heated interior space into the wall cavities can cause significant moisture problems. We’ve been following air-tight sheet rock protocols on our last jobs, which in itself is fairly straightforward. The most significant problem we were encountering was air-sealing the electrical penetrations.

On our current job we’ve been solving the electrical penetrations issue with boxes made by Airfoil Incorporated. The boxes are robust plastic construction with a substantial ring for sealing the box to the sheet rock as well as foam reservoirs at the wire penetrations. Boxes are mounted to the stud face with drywall screws for a strong connection; the sealing ring is the mounting mechanism, assuring consistent depth.

Airfoil single gang box, front view. The foam voids are visible here.

Airfoil single gang box, front view. The foam voids are visible here.

Once rough wiring is completed the upper and lower voids are filled with foam, sealing the wire penetrations. This effectively keeps the box on the conditioned side of the building envelope and prevents any air/moisture movement into the wall cavity.

Airfoil single gang box, back view

Airfoil single gang box, back view

While hanging sheet rock the flat sealing ring is caulked along with the window/door openings and the top and bottom plates, completing the air sealing process.

A simply designed, robustly built product that installs easily, integrates effortlessly into traditional stick-frame construction, and makes completing the tedious-but-essential air-sealing details quite a bit quicker and more efficient. Excellent. I’ll use this product on my own jobs in the future.