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House N Home Building
Cost Savings Guide

April, 2002


Healthy House Building

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

James Todd.
April 1, 2002
Happy Easter

Beginning with this edition, newsletters will now be archived
online at:


1. Three House Building "Convenience Tips" Do Them or Regret It!
2. Building Healthier Homes: Formaldehyde Gas
3. Are You Giving Your Builder Too Much of a Tip?
4. Useful Links
5. Thought for the Day
6. Subscription Information

1. Three House Building "Convenience Tips". Do Them or Regret It!

You will never fully appreciate the value of the following three tips if you implement
them. It is only if you don't that you will have an appreciation for their value and regret
that you didn't do them. Here they are:

I. DoorStops

Most doors used in new construction are hollow core doors. Yes, that's right, they
are hollow except in a few strategic places. These are the typical builder's choice
because the are inexpensive, light and easy to hang. Unfortunately they are easy to
puncture and have poor sound controlling qualities.

If your budget allows it you should consider solid wood, or solid core doors. Both
are superior to hollow core doors and are without the associated problems.

Due to cost many people end up with hollow core doors for the interior of their homes. If you do, make sure that doorstops are appropriate placed. If they are not, your  hollow core doors will soon have holes in them. You will end up fixing them or
paying someone to do the same. The way to avoid punctures from doorstops is to
ensure that stops are installed so they contact the edge of the door where there is some structural strength. Stops located in most other places will result in unsightly holes.

II. Hot Water Supply or Lack Thereof!

Almost everyone has been in a house where the hot water supply was less than adequate. Someone turns on a faucet, or starts the washing machine, and the supply of hot water in the shower vanishes almost instantly. There are a couple of causes of this situation. One is due to a buildup of minerals in the supply lines that reduces the flow of water. The other is due to the improper design of the water supply. The latter is the culprit in new homes.  If you don't want you new home to have this problem don't overlook this issue. Since the design and layout of every house is different there is no one answer to solve this problem. It really does come down to the placement of your water-using fixtures and appliances and the size of the lines feeding them. In other words your overall plumbing design.

Make sure you mention your concern about this to your builder. You may even want to meet with his plumbing subcontractor to reinforce the point. The remedial steps are expensive so make sure you get it done correctly the first time. I suggest that you have a clause in your specifications and building contract that addresses this issue. I provide such example language in the House and Home Building Guide.

III. Basement to Attic Conduit

If you have been to the House-N-Home web site you know that I suggest the use of a "basement to attic conduit" for running future cable, telephone, electrical or other lines. It's such a simple thing, but one that cannot be over-emphasized. It will save you ten's of hours in time and hundreds of dollars over the period you own your home. It greatly reduces the need to fish wires through walls. Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer, or your hire someone to handle these types of projects you will find it beneficial. It will be a time and a moneysaver. Don't overlook it. A 4-6" OD piece of PVC pipe should be sufficient.


2. Healthy House Building: Formaldehyde Gas


I was recently asked to write an article on the issue of building healthier homes

for the web site (click to see article) I didn't. What I did write
was an introduction to the topic. There is so much information related to the topic
that one cannot adequately address it in a short article.

The topic is also well beyond the scope of this newsletter. However, what I intend to
do is break this topic into smaller subtopics and cover one of these, in each succesive
monthly newsletter.

Formaldehyde gas can cause nasal and sinus irritation, respiratory inflammation and is
both mutagenic and carcinogenic. In short, it is a bad actor. Unfortunately, urea
formaldehyde glues are used pervasively in building materials and are the exclusive source of this gas in new homes.

Manufactured wood products, made using urea-formaldehyde glues, are common
building materials. They include things like oriented strand board, wafer board,
fiberboard, and particleboard. Particleboard is also commonly used, in cabinets and
shelving. Even in better quality brands, if you look closely, you will find that although
the exterior or face of the cabinet is made of solid wood, the sides, backs and internal
shelving is not. The likelihood is that it is made from particleboard.

Plywood is held together with these same urea-formaldehyde glues. However since plywood is usually used as a sheathing material and covered, it is not a big concern.

It is not uncommon to find that, upon close inspection, many pieces of furniture are made of this same particleboard material. Though furniture will obviously have an external finish that will serve as a barrier to these gases, it is likely that the underside or internal side of the furniture will be made of particleboard that is unfinished and exposed. It is from here that the formaldehyde will outgas.

Countertops made of man-made materials are often composed of particleboard as well. A classic example is a vinyl or Formica covered countertop. Almost invariable the base that these countertops are installed over is a particleboard base.

Bathroom vanities are another common source of formaldehyde because they are commonly made, at least partially, from particleboard.

How can you spot manufactured wood products? They are what you would expect: particles, shaving, wafers, chips, flakes, sawdust, strands or slivers of wood that are mixed with other resins and glued together. If you have any doubt, you can go to the Georgia Pacific web site, one of the many manufacturers, and see pictures of particleboard and other manufactured wood products.

By now you have come to the conclusion that this stuff is all around you. And you are
right- it is. What can you do about it? Well for starters you can look for manufactured
wood product that don't use urea formaldehyde glues. There are some out there and the list is growing as manufacturers respond to consumers concerns. Secondly, look for solid wood substitutes. There are some manufacturers of solid wood cabinets. Thirdly, look for other natural products that can be used in place of manufactured wood products. For example a granite countertop is a replacement for a particleboard-based countertop. Certainly it is more expensive, but it will last forever and contains no formaldehyde.

If you are stuck with the manufactured wood products that do use urea formaldehyde glues try to make sure that the surfaces are sealed to prevent outgassing. Lastly, as mentioned in the Healthier House Building Tips, it is important, especially if you have health problems, to build your house with some type of ventilation system so formaldehyde and the many other gases found in newly built homes can be routinely exchanged for fresh outside air.

3. Money Saving Tips for the Building of Your New Home

Yes, I admit it. I like to use the line about tipping your builder to get your attention. The truth of the matter is that you WILL pay your builder 5-10 grand more than you need to unless you know how to avoid it.

There are several ways you can save money in the building process. One is to be your own General Contractor. This will save you the most (assuming you know what you are doing). However, unless you are quite knowledgeable about the building process and have a lot of free time I don't recommend it- unless you want another full time job.

The second is to do some things yourself, like painting or seeding the grass or one of several other things that most homeowners can easily handle.

A third way is to put things off that don't have to be done immediately. Landscaping or the building of a deck are good examples.

However, the one that will give you the greatest return for your effort is for you to buy
some of the items that will go into your new home, directly, rather than through your builder. By doing so you will avoid the builder's markup and will save thousands of dollars. The House-N-Home-Building Guideexplains how to do this and contains a sample contract and sample specifications to help you put this approach into practice.

4. Useful Links
The following are useful links that I have come across that might be helpful to you in
your home building project.

The Healthy House Institute contains many useful articles, links, guides, books and
resources on indoor air quality issues.

This site from the Star Group is a collection of photos of actual defects found during
inspections of new and old construction. Feel free to explore these amazing defects. contains over 200 color photographs of every step of the building

5. Thought for today: Evil

"The only thing necessary for the triumph
of evil is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke.

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