Is a Carpenter a Magician?

Occasionally, I wonder how people regard my profession as a carpenter and
business owner. I can see how some people see my profession as an athlete. Others may
think of my profession as a backdoor to earn a decent living without formal training. I’ve
come across others who probably see this career as a multi-step career in which you start
as a laborer and end in some sort of management position.

I see my job through many lenses, but to the outsider I think my job is easiest to
understand if you compare it to how a magician executes a magic trick. I know that this
comparison may be corny to many, but I think that this comparison has a lot of truths to
my job as a carpenter.

There are many types of magicians, which include the amateur to the ultra-
professional just like the world of carpentry. Some magicians are flashy and try to exploit
all the visual and auditory senses as much as possible. Just as there are some carpenters
who have all the fancy, expensive equipment and props that exploit customers’ assurance
that they can execute a project. Light shows, booming audio, and fancy equipment do not
execute tricks or projects, but they certainly can help.

When I am executing a task in carpentry, I am operating in a world of imperfection.
Overall, I am battling imperfect measurements, imperfect equipment, and imperfect
materials. Like the magician, I am fighting the environment to perform a task or in the case
of a magician, a trick. My job is creating an illusion in an imperfect world that can
withstand time; just as the magician is visually trying to convince your brain and your eyes
that the trick performed appears real.

A professional magician who executes a trick well can blow your mind. The first
question is, how did they do that? A well-trained, experienced carpenter also begs the
same question.

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Split-Level Homes – Some Facts

If you live in the Seacoast of New Hampshire or Massachusetts a residential starter
home that is not uncommon to find in older housing development is the Split-Level home.
Dover, Durham, and Portsmouth have numerous older developments with this style
architecture and most of these homes are over fifty years old. Overall, this style
home began its popularity in the mid to late 1950’s and stopped being mass built by the
late 1970’s.

The Split-Level home is essentially a multi-level ranch that maintains its horizontal
dominance, low pitched roof lines with large overhangs. The Split-Level home was the
counter to the dominant Ranch style home being built in the same era and had a lot of
popularity in the Northeast and Midwest.

Unlike a ranch home, the Split-Level home are generally compact residences that
combine four-integral separate spaces, which include a drive-in garage, a Rec room in the
basement, living room- kitchen on the second floor, and a private hallway with bedrooms,
which is generally on the second floor.

The Split-Level home is classified as “Modern architecture”, which began in the US
in the late 1930’s and is still present in today’s architecture. There is not one person or
building company credited with creating the first Split-Level home architectural style.
Over the years I have worked in numerous Split-Level homes and most of the
people that I have worked for were either single-professionals or empty nesters. The
common negative traits most of them shared were poor ventilation, inadequate roofing-
framing and substrate, poor natural light, textured ceilings, and the lack of general
upgrades to the residence.

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A General Contractor’s Perspective on your Future EV Purchase

As a general contractor that works in the Seacoast of New Hampshire, I have
regularly been asking customers if they are planning on purchasing an electrical vehicle in
conjunction when doing a larger remodeling project. The reason for asking this question is
that this future electrical demand of an EV Purchase should be evaluated when altering or expanding
a homeowner’s electrical Panel during a remodel.

Homeowners who have a 100-Amp Service at their home are likely going to have to
upgrade their Electrical Service to a 200-Amp service. In Dover, New Hampshire, I would
expect that the minimum service upgrade would be around $3,500.00 for a 200-Amp
Service upgrade.

If you’re a homeowner who has a larger square footage home; with luxury electrical
appliances such as hot tubs and mini-splits you may be a candidate for a 400-Amp Service.
Especially if two charging stations are installed in the garage that are level 2. I would
expect a 400-amp service upgrade to range from $5,500-$6,000.

Globally, the most common EV charging port installed is a Level 2, which is 240
Volts. Nationally, a Level 2, EV charger ranges in cost between $600-$1200, however
there are several variables that influence the final cost, including the charger type,
connection method, installation location, and what region of the country you live.

I would also recommend homeowners that are considering a stand-by generator and
a future EV purchase, expressing that desire when sizing the correct Kilowatt generator for

As you can tell, there are several factors to consider when evaluating an EV purchase.

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Dover NH – A rare architectural style

Through the decades American Building & Design, LLC has done many remodeling
& renovations in Dover, NH. Dover historically is the oldest settlement in New Hampshire
and the seventh settlement in the United States.

Since the early 17 th century Dover, NH has had a variety of architectural styles which
range from pre-colonial to modern day architecture. Dover has an abundant number of
architectural styles from the Victorian era that range from Greek rival to Second empire.
Although there of examples of Victorian Era architectural styles within the city, I would
classify most styles as “folk” or utilitarian in details, which has an architectural ambiguity
in terms of what type of architectural style the building has.

A rare architectural style in Dover, NH which has always stood out to me is the
Dover Post Office, which is architecturally classified as Beaux Arts. Beaux Arts was
popular from the late 19 th into the early 20 th century, which is a combination of formal
symmetry, Italian Renaissance form, and classical Greek and Roman decorative elements.
Architecturally, Beaux Arts is used is traditionally used on civic buildings to convey
importance to the town or city.

The Dover Post office is located at 133 Washington Street and is the only example
of Beaux Arts in Dover NH and the Seacoast of New Hampshire that I am aware of. The
post office was constructed in 1911 and is listed in the National Register of Historic

The Dover NH Post office was built on a hillside to telegraph its importance and classic Beaux
Arts style. Architectural details of the Post Office include arched Italian arched windows,
decorative Garlands, masonry walls (ivory), flat-to low pitched roof, and classical quoins.
My favorite detail of this building is the centered arched window with a bracket
and floral swag and the flanking English bond picture frames running vertical.

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Pellet Boiler is a real option?

An exciting home heating option that has been growing market share is the pellet boiler. It is
projected that the pellet boiler will grow at 8.2% CAGR (Compound annual growth rate)
in the next decade according to Global market insights.

What is a pellet boiler? Mechanically, it’s virtually identical to your oil or gas boiler
other than the fuel source. The fuel-space storage is larger for a pellet boiler, which may
make this option unrealistic for some homeowners. Overall, a hopper is required, and a
fuel bin is needed to store pellets. The pellet stove does require a monthly emptying of an
ash bin; otherwise, there is little difference.

Why would I want a pellet boiler? This answer will have different importance to the
individual reader, but wood pellets have been historically more cost-effective than carbon-
based fuels. Secondly, pellets are classified as a biomass fuel, which are more
environmentally friendly, and a pellet boiler is a long-term, sustainable heating method
because wood pellets are a renewable, natural, and ultra-low carbon fuel.

What are the problems associated with pellet boilers? My understanding is that the
pellets used need to be the brand that the manufacturer specifies.
Also, humidity plays into the equation on burning the maximum BTUs received from your
pellets. So, to clarify, climate control plays into the storage of the pellets, which could
make this option a headache for some homeowners.

The challenge for the homeowner that wants to install a pellet boiler is finding a
heating contractor with a high degree of knowledge, actual work experience, and who is
focused on the details of the system and the details of your home. I believe that this
roadmap will net greater success for any homeowner that wants to pursue this relatively
new technology.

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Roof Trusses – A carpenter’s & designer’s perspective

Roof truss systems very from home to home. Through the years of being in business I have had the opportunity to frame a lot of homes and additions. One of the more complex aspects of the framing project can be the roof system, because the roof system is the culmination of how accurate the previous
framing steps were executed.

This blog has some general highlights for the pros and cons of a truss roof system
over a traditionally framed system. Honestly, I prefer stick framing roofs over trussed
roofs, but truss roof systems are a good option for some projects.

The Pros of this system can offer a carpenter/homeowner & designer:

  1. Identically sized trusses which eliminate the variable of the roof system
    from variation and are constructed in a quality-controlled factory.
  2. If a skilled and capable crew installs a truss roof system; this project can
    be installed accurately, quickly, and safely.
  3. The spans of the roof truss can be vast without any bearing walls, which
    can make a this option more attractive to a customer & designers.
  4. A truss roof system can always be reinforced, which is attractive in high
    wind regions.
  5. Other trades such as HVAC, Electrical. & plumbing love unoccupied attics
    and webbed trusses for their duties.
  6. In terms of energy code, there can be less thermal bridging if insulated on
    the rake, and I would argue a better insulation project could be
    accomplished over stick framing.

The Cons of this system can include:

  1. If the building has any significant issues such as not being level, out of
    plumb, and the building is out-of-square; Trusses can telegraph these
    mistakes and it can be challenging to hide.
  2. If you don’t have a competent crew installing roof trusses this endeavor
    can become extremely dangerous for the installation and the trusses could
    lack the correct permanent bracing.
  3. Trusses cannot be altered from the factory, which includes tails. Therefore,
    the roof truss cannot have any field alterations without an engineer’s letter.
  4. The order time for trusses can be long and delay the start date of a project.
  5. Buildings that contain trusses are susceptible to collapse from fire
    exposure in a very short period of time.
  6. You can receive a damaged truss, which can delay your project.
  7. Most roof trusses are installed with 2’ O/C which doesn’t stack with 16
    O/C wall studs. However, every 4’ the stud and truss will align.

Check out this article for signs of roof failures

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Laundry Chutes

An old fashion common architectural detail that has fallen to the wayside is the
laundry chute. Not all households would see this architectural detail as useful, but some
households would certainly use this building feature if one existed.

Why have laundry chutes disappeared from new house construction? The most
common answer is the fire code. Laundry chutes are an avenue for flames to travel rapidly
from floor to floor. Most municipalities have outlawed the construction of these receptacles.
In my opinion stairwells are more guilty for spreading fires and their flames from floor to
floor. Why haven’t staircases been subjected to fire doors and chambers to eliminate
flames from traveling from floor to floor?

The other life safety code concerns that most people would possibly have concerns
about a person or child deciding to take a ride down the laundry chute and getting
seriously injured. Maybe a laundry chute door should be required so many inches from the
floor with a safety locked door?

Is there a way to construct a laundry chute and follow the fire code and protect
people from accidentally or purposely riding down? The answer is yes in
my opinion but check with your building inspector before installing one in
your home or anyone else’s home.

The laundry chute would have three components. First, I would frame the shaft and
strictly follow all fire blocking codes relevant to a multi-story shaft. Secondly, I would
install fire rated drywall on all sides for the shaft with a bed tape coat. Lastly, I would
install tubing if desired and an air-tight, fire-rated chute door with a minimum of 3’-0”
from a finished floor. I would also install a hatch door on the bottom of laundry chute. This
door would be airtight and would require opening the door to access the laundry. Apply for
a permit or speak to your building inspector before beginning any endeavor.

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Strawberry Banke, Portsmouth N.H

If you have recently moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire as many families
have in the past few decades, a worthwhile field trip is to visit Historic Strawberry Banke,
Portsmouth N.H.

Strawberry Banke, Portsmouth N.H

Strawberry Banke was settled in 1630 by Captain Walter Neale who named the
settlement Strawberry Banke because of the abundance of strawberries along the banks of
the Piscataqua River. Strawberry Banke remained a neighborhood until the late 1950’s
when the Urban Renewal Development began slowly restoring 37 individual homes, which
is now in the Historic Register.  
In terms of historic Colonial and American architectural styles; Strawberry Banke
has three architectural style buildings on display, which include Colonial, Georgian, and

The Sherburne house, which was built in 1695, is an example of a colonial house in
Strawberry Banke. This colonial house is utilitarian and is a two story, one-unit deep home
with a center chimney. There are two cross-gables on the front facade. If you’re interested
in seeing the Sherburne House, I believe the address is 14 Hancock Street, Portsmouth,
NH 03801.

An example of a Georgian architectural style building in Strawberry Banke would
be the Chase family house, which was built in 1762. This symmetrical, Gambrel, wood
clad-boarded structure has Mustard colored siding, with scale and prominence. The most
eye catching aspect of the building for me is the segmental pediment with a paneled door.
This building is all class and is located at 698 Middle Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.
The last prominent architectural style in Strawberry Banke is the Nathen Parker
home. This three-story, hipped low pitched roof, red brick, five ranked -symmetrical
windows, is a Federalist Style home, which was constructed in 1810. The six panel,
fanlight door is an excellent example of Federalist architecture. Also, the graduated
window heights from floor to floor is another excellent example of Federalist architecture.
The Nathen Parker home is located on 46 Livermore Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

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What is Pressure Treated Lumber?

What is pressure treated lumber and what is it used for? Pressure treated lumber in
my region of the country, New England, is Southern Yellow Pine species, which is then
injected with a preservative to protect the lumber from outside elements such as fungi and
insect damage. The treated lumber can have a life span of approximately forty years,
which can drastically vary depending on how it’s used and where it is used.
Generally, decks, exterior staircases, Pergolas, and any area of a structure that touches the
ground has a combination of treated lumber built into it.

The process of injecting preservative chemicals into the lumber involves a kiln and
vacuum pump, and there are several methods that are achieved by mill yards. The obvious
difference between kiln dried lumber and pressure treated lumber is the moisture content and the
appearance of the lumber, which is a greenish hue. Pressure treated lumber can typically have a
moisture content between 45-90%, which is noticeable when compared to kiln dried
lumber that ranges between 6-8%. Particularly treated lumber is the best options for decks.

Check out this comprehensive post at the family handyman

The chemicals used in pressure treated lumber have evolved through the years.
Depending on the region of the country that you live in, lumber chemicals change from an
arsenic based formal to a more environmentally sound product in 2003. The arsenic based
formal had been used since the 1930’s and like most products in the construction industry,
it was a slow transition to a more human and environmentally friendly product.

Carpenter Ants & Deck Flashing

A common occurrence in late spring in New England is the awakening of
carpenter ants. If you start noticing carpenter ants in your house or around a
door or window, it is a tell-tale sign that you may have an infestation.
Carpenter ants burrow in moist wood, however they do not eat the wood,
rather they build colonies, which can compromise the integrity of a structure.
If you see a lot of carpenter ants, you have two issues. The first issue is
that the structure of your house is absorbing water in areas that are not designed
to be wet, and the second issue is that you have carpenter ants attacking that area
of moist wood and compromising the integrity of that area.

Exterior trim such as water tables, brick returns, exterior door casing, or
wooden windowsills, are prime candidates for this phenomenon to occur.
However, the most common occurrence that I have seen during my years as a
carpenter is the kick plate below an exterior door system. Generally, this kick
plate is married to a deck or stoop, and excess moisture is the result of
inadequate flashing and counter flashing. Deck flashing is critical to protecting
your structure because your rim-joists and wall sheathing should not become

Pressure treated lumber

Repairing a rim-joist and sheathing is often difficult because the deck
platform must be altered to repair the rotten wood and insect-damaged wood. I
find that the door system is more than likely a candidate to be replaced during
this process, because the ants travel into the jamb of the door system. Overall,
this repair can become expensive quickly.
What can you do to prevent carpenter ant damage? The first suggestion is
that you hire a skilled carpenter to perform your exterior door installation and
deck construction. There are many products and techniques associated with this
task, but the strongest recommendation is counter flashing followed by
additional counter flashing. Secondly, hire an insect mitigation contractor to
spray the exterior and interior of your house. A trained insect mitigation
company is an effective way to eliminate insect infestations and protect the
structural integrity of your home.