By Mitch Kuffa
Here are some “Fun Facts” that I have discovered after having been in the construction industry for 40 years and having had the opportunity to work with many skilled trades, qualified inspectors, and demanding consumers. These “facts” are in no special order but may help you to more expeditiously finish a job, understand your house, or simply bring a smile to your face. Some of these items were realized long ago but obviously have impressed me enough so as to now share them with you now.
1. Did you know that the cracks in a concrete basement floor typically follow the underground pipes installed by the plumber and those cracks lead to outside foundation walls where they indicate the connection to the outside drain tile? I personally use this fact when analyzing water infiltration problems into the basement. Knowing this kind of gives you “x-ray vision.”
2. Did you know that some of the oldest and most skilled tradespersons on the construction site carry their tools around in 5-gallon paint buckets (instead of fancy too belts, toolboxes, etc.)?
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3. One day I walked in on a drywall taper finishing off the seams in the drywall prior to paint. He was on a scaffolding trying to finish that very difficult top joint in a studio ceiling that inconspicuously and often very irregularly are finished. His joint, however, was almost perfect and he was using an old phonograph record (a CD or DVD would work) to spread the drywall mud consistently along the joint to make a perfectly shaped finished seam.
4. When I first started in the industry, I had this old-time FHA inspector that used marbles to tell if something was out of level, crooked, or ill pitched in his opinion. He would place the marbles on floors, countertops, inside of cabinets, porch slabs, etc. He also always made sure he had a dime and his theory was that if there was any crack in new construction material larger then a dime’s width it was out of the ordinary (concrete cracks, brick and plaster cracks, etc.).
5. Did you know that typically the distance between your fingertips when your arms are extended parallel to the ground is the same as your height? This is a neat fact to know if you forgot your tape measure and need only approximate dimensions. I use it many times to determine approximate room sizes, floor covering, lineal feet of cabinetry, etc.
6. I love concrete splash blocks (which are placed at the end of downspouts) because all of the people who like to knock off your downspouts extensions avoid these like the plague. It is important that your roof water overflow discharges away from your foundations and lawnmowers, weed whackers, kids on bikes stay away from this more permanent concrete product.
7. Did you know that when you can see your three-tab conventional roof shingles starting to “curl” or “cup” at the tips it is an indication that this product is beyond halfway through its life expectancy and beginning to enter the autumn of its years?
8. Do you know how experienced painters filter and/or mix old paint from partially filled buckets? They use pantyhose and pour the paint through them which filters any of the chunks, dried pieces, etc.
9. Another day I walked up on this very qualified and established brick mason who I knew for years and he was starting at the lower course of a new brick wall. Sitting next to his trowel he had a container of large diameter macaroni directly from the box and he was placing these at intervals in the motor joint (near the bottom of the wall). I watched this in fascination and finally asked him what he was doing? He said, “I am installing the weep holes.” He said that the macaroni was the perfect form for a weep hole because it softens with moisture, eventually falls out and forms the perfect opening.
10. One of the most effective things that you can do to get “critters” (squirrels, birds, rabbits, etc.) away from areas where you do not want them is by placing a large artificial owl in that area. Most landscape stores have these artificial predators and most animals are deathly afraid of them. The new ones have “bobbleheads” and must be occasionally relocated for the smarter smaller animals.
11. Many years ago we had this overwhelming smell in a newly constructed residence. We could not determine the source of it until one day we found that it was coming from inside a wall. After breaking into the wall we found a dead skunk. The only thing (and believe me, we tried everything) that would neutralize that odor was cat liter with real chlorophyll.
12. Do you have trouble making a nice, neat caulking joint? Try using a spoon or popsicle stick to run through the joint.
13. If you have an old roof, look at it from a distance through binoculars (in lieu of walking all over the old brittle shingles that can be further damaged by pedestrian traffic).
14. If you have metal storm windows on your house AND the weep holes at the bottom of the frame are closed or plugged AND you leave the bottom storm window open during a driving rain, you will be able to collect water between the storm and prime sash (which will not be able to escape) and will run into the window frame leaking into the house. I have had several different occasions where people could not figure out where the “mystery” leak was coming from and this was the culprit.
15. Did you know that ceramic tile can be installed over ceramic tile? If the original tile is in good condition, many times people just want to change the color or style. Knowing this can save a lot of mess, money, and time.
16. If you have had grease poured into your disposal, use ice cubes to help get rid of it. If you have an undesirable odor coming from your disposal, use half lemons to provide a fresh aroma.
17. Did you know that bats, squirrels, and many other pests despise the smell of mothballs?
18. Are you aware that having a visqueen vapor barrier over the dirt in your crawl space allows you to lessen ventilation by approximately 90 percent (obviously important to have)?
19. Did you know that approximately 90% of all heat loss goes up through the attic/room, approximately 21% through doors and windows, and 9% through walls (interesting numbers since attic installation is relatively cheap, replacement windows are expensive, and adding wall installation is very difficult)?
20. Aggravating floor squeaks on the first floor of a house can usually be remedied by driving wood shims between the top of the floor joists and bottom of the floor sheathing in the basement of crawl space area.
21. If you find a heavy accumulation of dust/dirt on top of your hot water tank, at the bottom of the bell type diverter, it is an indication that you may not have enough pitch of the flue and it is back drafting occasionally (undesirable since this is carbon monoxide).
22. Do you by any chance hear a “crinkling” of metal ductwork when you are walking across your living area floor? This is typically remedied by having someone jump up and down on the floor above while another goes below and locates the area in question. Then take a sharp instrument (such as a screwdriver) and etch an “X” into the metal. You will find that the noise goes away (you have created a quasi expansion joint to compensate for the metal moving).That’s it, try some of these items out and have fun.
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Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he has worked as a construction superintendent, general superintendent, and construction manager for several large developers in the state of Michigan.
He has been a licensed Michigan residential builder since 1977, was an incorporated general contractor for 11 years and has built and/or run the construction of approx. 3,500 residential houses, apartments, commercial structures and/or light industrial buildings.
In 1981 he started the first private home inspection agency in Michigan and to date has personally performed approx. 16,000 inspections for a fee.
Since 1981, Mr. Kuffa inspects properties and acts as a construction consultant for the Michigan Department of Mental Health (group homes), UAW Legal Services, numerous lenders, several non-profit organizations and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Kuffa is a federal housing fee inspector and FHA 203K mortgage loan consultant, works with several attorneys’s as an “expert witness”, has been appointed by the Michigan circuit court system to act as a Receiver in several cases concerning construction litigation and teaches a series of construction classes (for misc. school districts, community colleges, Michigan State Housing Authority, etc.).
Mr. Kuffa has been a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, in good standing, since 1983.