Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Redecorating, Remodeling    by: ITC

Staircases are often taken for granted yet they are complex pieces of carpentry which give many years of trouble-free use. They rarely need replacing: just as well, since they are often tailor-made to fit. Even so you can buy ready made versions, which cater for common storey heights and these can often be easily adapted to fit exactly.

A staircase comprises a number of steps fixed between two long boards which are fixed to the joists of the floors they connect. These boards are called strings, the horizontal surfaces of the steps are called treads and sometimes they have vertical boards between them known as risers.

Strings can be in two forms: closed and cut. With the former the ends of the treads and risers are housed in shallow slots cut in the face of the string and held there by wedges driven in from behind and below. The risers are fixed to the treads below with housing joints or screws, and to the treads above by triangular blocks glued and nailed in place. The top edge of a cut string is shaped to provide horizontal ledges to which the treads are fixed. Sometimes both foul’s of string will be used in the same staircase, the closed string being fixed against a wall with the cut string on the outside.

Further support for the steps can be provided by a beam that runs below the treads and risers parallel to the strings. This is known as a carriage.

There are two basic types of staircase: the closed tread and open tread. Of the two, the former is most common, having treads and risers in a boxed-in construction. The underside of the strings are usually clad with lath and plaster or gypsum board or there may be a closet below the stairs. The latter is preferable since it allows easy inspection and repair. The open tread staircase has no risers and is completely exposed.

In a closed tread staircase the treads are about lin thick and will overhang the risers by a similar amount, their leading edges or noses being rounded off. A decorative molding is often fitted below the nose. An open tread staircase will tend to have thicker treads because they are not supported by risers, although sometimes a batten will be set on edge immediately below them to stiffen the tread.

All staircases must have at least one handrail and if wide they must have one on each side, depending on the requirements of your local code. The handrail forms part of the balustrade, the other parts of which are the newel posts and balusters.

The newel posts fit at each end of the stairs with the handrail running between them. Not only do they support the handrail but often the strings as well which will be slotted into them and fixed with wooden dowels. Further support for the handrail is provided by the balusters which fit between it and the strings.

Though straight staircases are common, where space is limited it is often necessary for the stairs to change direction on the way up. A small quarter landing is used to provide a 90° change of direction and a half landing will turn the stairs back on themselves.

If there is not room for a half or quarter landing a turn can be put into the stairs by inserting triangular treads called winders. Winders are also used in spiral staircases which can be great space savers. Unfortunately they are not very practical since carrying furniture and other bulky items up them is difficult.

Covering Roof with Asphalt

Filed Under: DIY Outdoor, Do it yourself, Home repair    by: ITC

The method used for constructing a flat roof is outlined in the following way; the joists usually being laid along the length of the extension from the house to the end wall. At the house end, the joists may either rest on top of a wooden wall plate, being toe-nailed in place, or be nailed to metal hangers which are also nailed to the wall plate. The ends of the wall plate are set in sockets built into the extension side walls.

At the end of the extension, the joists can simply rest on top of the end wall and be nailed in place or, if there is a window in the end wall, a second wooden beam can be fitted to span the opening and support the joists.

Tapered furring pieces are nailed to the tops of the joists to create the right fall. For felt covering the fall should be 1 in 60, but for asphalt it should be 1 in 80.

Sheets of exterior grade plywood are used to provide a roof decking and are nailed down through the furring pieces into the joists. The sheets should be staggered so the joints between their short edges do not coincide.

Although a felt-covered roof is the cheapest and easiest to construct, a much more durable finish can be obtained by having it covered with asphalt. This material is heated until it melts and is then spread over the roof to provide a solid, impervious layer when it cools. It is a job that requires a great deal of skill and is one that you should get a building, contractor to do for you.

Flat roofs can often suffer from condensation when moist air passes through the ceiling from the rooms below and cools on contact with the underside of the roof — particularly with bathrooms and kitchens and when the atmosphere is damp.

Leaving ventilation gaps behind the fascia and insulating the roof will help, but the best idea is to either use foil-back gN,:psumboard for the ceiling – which will stop the moist air passing through – or staple a separate polyethelene vapor barrier to the underside of the joists before nailing the gypsum- board in place. Once the extension has been weatherproofed by glazing the windows and fitting the doors, the room can be finished. Before plastering the walls and ceiling, lay in the necessary electrical cables, mount accessory boxes and run in any pipe work for hot and cold water or central heating.


1 Nailing the roof joists into hangers attached to the main beam; toe-nail through the top of the roof joists into the main beam also.

2 Nailing furring pieces (narrow end over the front wall) to the tops of the roof joists to set a 1 in 80 fall for the roof

3 Nailing the plywood roofing sheets over the furrings: stagger the joints between the short edges.

4 After pouring hot asphalt onto the roof. smoothing it out to a layer about 3/8in thick.

Catering for Drain Pipes

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Plumbing, Remodeling    by: ITC

An important consideration when building an extension is the position of any drainage pipe run — either an existing one from the house or any new waste pipes from fittings in the new extension. You must sort out the route the pipes will take before the walls are built since they will pass through them below floor level, and openings must be left in the walls as they are built.

Lintels will need to be incorporated to support the wall above the openings. If the extension is to have trench-fill foundations, ducts should be made in the concrete to allow the passage of pipes. A simple method is to set slightly larger pipes in the concrete as it is poured and then run the pipes through these round openings later.

The positions of the inner and outer leaves of the walls should be marked centrally on the concrete of the foundations with chalk. The center lines of the wall and foundations being within lin of each other.

As the walls are built, stringlines are stretched between the corners to make sure each course of bricks or blocks is laid in a straight line.

Although you can use brick for both inner and outer leaves of the wall, in practice it makes more sense to use lightweight concrete blocks for the former since these will provide a certain amount of insulation — a requirement of the Building Regulations.

With this type of construction, the inner leaf is the load-bearing part of the wall, carrying the weight of any floors and ceilings so lintels must be fitted across doorways and windows. Steel boot lintels are best since they are relatively lightweight and their shape ensures that any water that penetrates the outer leaf of the wall is prevented from reaching the inner leaf and is channeled out over the toe of the boot.

The two leaves of the wall should be constructed simultaneously, laying a few courses of each at a time. As construction proceeds, the two leaves must be linked together with metal or plastic wall ties to prevent them leaning away from each other.

Ties are designed to prevent water running across them to the inner leaf but they must still be set in the mortar joints so that they slope downwards slightly towards the outer leaf. Ties should be set about 18in apart vertically and 3ft apart horizontally, the positions in each horizontal row being staggered with those above and below. At door and window openings, ties should be set one above the other at 12in intervals.

Water penetration must also be prevented from below and this is achieved by inserting a flexible bitumen damp-proof course (DPC) in a horizontal mortar joint around the base of each leaf, at least two courses of bricks above ground level.

When the floor is laid, a damp-proof membrane (DPM) is taken up the walls and tucked under the DPC. Strips of DPC must be fitted in the vertical mortar joints where the inner leaf is turned to close off the cavity at windows and door openings, and below the threshold of the door, linking to the DPC in the outer leaf.

The walls must be toothed into the existing house walls at alternate courses to ensure permanent stability.

Building an Extension

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

A ground floor extension can be purpose-designed and built to suit your needs exactly, or it can be constructed from a number of standard prefabricated components purchased from an extension manufacturer. Which type you choose depends on what you will use it for. The former is ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms; the latter is more suited to laundry rooms, sun rooms, children’s play rooms, work-shops and so on, and includes simple metal-framed, full-glazed conservatories.

The most important parts of the structure of your new extension are the foundations, which support the walls and spread the load evenly across the ground. Consequently, their design is quite critical and should be carried out after consulting your local Building Code which will specify the type of foundations required for the job and the depth to which they must be dug, based on local ground conditions.

To be effective, foundations must lie on firm, stable sub-soil, and depending on the soil type this may mean digging to a depth of 3ft or more. The type of soil will also dictate the type of foundations needed, as will the method of construction of the extension.

For a purpose-built extension with brick or block walls, it is usual to lay concrete in a trench and build the walls on top but for lighter constructions, such as prefabricated buildings, a slab of concrete known as a “raft” is more common.

The most common form of foundation is the “strip” type. With these a layer of concrete at least 6in thick is spread along the bottom of the trench, leveled off, then the walls built on top. Normally, a width of 18in is quite adequate, but at depths below 3ft or on certain types of weak soil a width of 30in or more is preferable — often with steel reinforcement added.

The trench-fill foundation is filled with concrete to within 6in of the ground level and the walls begun.

The concrete for this type of foundation should be at least 20in deep and about 6in wider than the width of the wall. The sides of the trench must be vertical to prevent any possibility of the load above causing the foundations to topple.

The walls of a habitable extension to your house must be of cavity construction; that is comprising an outer leaf of bricks and an inner leaf of bricks or. more usually, concrete insulating blocks with a 2in Pit- gap in between giving a wall thickness of 1 lin, although the cavity may be 3in wide to accommodate polystyrene slab insulation and still leave an air gap.

Even if the main part of your house has solid outer walls, the Building Code specifies that your extension must be of cavity wall construction.

Attic Conversion Works

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Your lighting and power accessories will almost certainly need new circuits, which mean having sufficient spare fuseways or breakers at the electric panel, or extending the existing service panel. If you intend extending your central heating system, check that the boiler has the extra capacity.

In general, you will probably have to re-route pipes and cables already in the attic.

Attic conversion work should not be undertaken lightly since major structural alterations to the roof are inevitable. That is why it is essential to employ professionals to carry out at least all the initial design work, loading calculations and the necessary structural alterations. Then, if you want to save money, do the less critical parts of the job yourself: building the dividing partitions, cladding the floor and ceiling, installing the electrical circuits and pipe work.

If you do intend carrying out these tasks yourself, and you have any doubts at all regarding your ability to do so, then consult an expert in the particular area. In the final analysis, it may save much frustration, time and cost.

What the job involves

The weight of the floor, partition walls and ceiling of an attic conversion can be quite considerable and that is without the loading imposed by the framework for a dormer and, of course, the furnishings added to the completed rooms. So the very first job that is done when converting the loft is to build a supporting structure that will be able to carry this loading and also provide partial support to the roof, if parts of its original framework have been removed.

It is most unlikely that the original attic joists will be capable of providing the necessary extra support. There are two ways in which a strong floor frame can be made: either extra joists of the same size as the originals are fitted between them, or a completely separate structure is built on top of them, being supported directly by the load-bearing walls. Of the two, the latter is preferable, since it will insulate the rooms below from noise and vibration from the rooms above. It will also prevent damage to the ceiling during the construction stage. However, the available headroom will be reduced.

The separate framework will consist of strong wooden beams called trimmers placed around the edges and at strategic points joists will be fitted between them on metal hangers. Where trimmers and joists pass over intermediate loadbearing walls they are packed out with wood blocks for support.

Once this framework is in place, the necessary modifications can be made to the roof itself – adding extra support struts, dormer frameworks and even, in some cases, loadbearing wood-framed partitions.

The floor is normally clad with tongued-andgrooved plywood sheets — a quickly-laid, flat floor.

It is possible to buy standard size flights of stairs, either of the closed or open tread type and, if at all possible, these should be chosen to save on the expense of having stairs specially made to fit. It may be necessary to add a trimmer joist to the floor at the foot of the stairs for extra strength; another trimmer will be needed in the attic floor to support the top. The opening for the new stairs will be quite large and roomy, requiring several original attic joists to be cut through. Their ends must be supported from the new framework with trimmer joists or metal hangers.

The staircase itself may need cladding along the underside with gypsum board, unless it is of the open-tread variety.

Joists for the ceiling can be nailed- between the original rafters, and if a dormer is fitted they are bolted in place and carried through to support the dormer roof.

The internal walls can be lightweight stud partitions. The frames should be nailed together flat on the floor and then lifted into position where they can be nailed to the floor joists, the ceiling joists and to the rafters or other parts of the structure. Always notch the frameworks to fit over the existing roof members, not the other way round otherwise you will weaken the roof.

While the ceiling and partition frameworks are bare, you can fit all the electrical accessory mounting boxes to battens nailed in place and run in all the cables and any pipe work. Then cut insulation material to fit between the studs and bracing of the walls, the joists of the ceiling and the original rafters.

Wall cladding

Clad the walls and ceilings with foil-backed gypsum- board. This will help insulate the rooms and prevent moisture from passing through the walls into the roof space. The final job is to plaster the walls and decorate.

You will need to be able to get to the rest of the roof for repairs and maintenance to water tanks and pipe work, in addition to using it for storage purposes.

To this end, hatches should be built into the partition frameworks. They can be fitted with plywood panels held by magnetic catches and trimmed with molding.

Converting an Attic

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

There are many points to consider before you can safely go ahead and convert your attic to living space. The first thing to do is to check the inside and the floor below to get some idea as to whether a conversion is possible or not.

The method of construction of the roof can present its own problems and some types do not lend themselves to conversion at all. Really heavy vertical posts supporting the ridge, with heavy cross-pieces below and diagonal struts, cannot be removed and they may be spaced too closely to allow rooms in between. Some modern houses have roofs made of prefabricated lightweight trussed rafters with no ridge bar at all, and these cannot be altered either.

In assessing space the problems arise because what you will be trying to do is to create a roughly rectangular shape within a triangular one. An attic has a vast floor area – equal to the area of the floor below – but because the roof slopes inwards the amount of floor area which is of any real use can be quite small.

The design of the roof also has an effect on the space available without making structural modifications to it. For a roof of any given size, a gable-ended design will have more immediately usable space than one with a gable at one end and a hip at the other. A roof with both ends hipped will offer even less room. This situation can be considerably improved by the addition of dormers but you need to decide whether the work involved will be worthwhile.

The pitch of the roof also has an effect; a low shallow pitched roof offers less space than a tall steeply-pitched one because of the need for a reasonable headroom over most of the floor. The Building Code usually stipulates a minimum headroom, but this only applies to a percentage of the floor area, so the rest of the floor area can have a lower headroom. This allows you to push the outer walls of the rooms out into the eaves to increase the size.

Having the space available either as the roof stands or with the addition of dormers is one thing, but you must fit a proper staircase to the attic — so work out roughly where you could install it.

Ideally, the new flight of stairs should be fitted over the existing stairwell, but to do this you may have to break through the wall of an adjoining room with a consequent loss of space in that room. In this situation you would want to be sure that the space lost at the foot of the stairs would be regained together with a lot more space in the attic.

You should also take into account where the staircase will break through the ceiling into the attic. It will need quite a large opening and should not interfere with essential roof supports, chimneys, cisterns and pipe work. You must have ample headroom at the base of the stairs, on the stairs and at the top of the stairs, although the latter can often be provided by building out a dormer to the eaves.

If the house is a two storey building, the conversion of the attic will make it three storeys high and here you may run into another snag, with your local building code. The door that opens to the stairwell of a three-storey building may have to be self-closing and the walls, floors and door frames may need to offer half-to one-hour fire resistance. Often the floors and walls will be built to this standard anyway, but there are still the doors to be taken care of. Local Codes vary so always check with your local Building Codes before planning any building project.

Fitting an Attic Ladder

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

When you want to get into your attic there is no reason why you should not use an ordinary ladder, provided it is secured to the opening in some way – by hooks and eyes perhaps, but whatever you do, never use a pair of step ladders. In trying to climb out of the attic and groping for the top of the steps with your foot, you could easily knock them over, leaving you stranded, or worse you might fall with the ladder causing physical injury.

One drawback to using a normal ladder is that you will need somewhere to store it and you will have to go to the trouble of digging it out of storage every time you want to get into the roof space — or it may be in use elsewhere in the house.

A much more satisfactory solution to the problem of climbing into your attic is the proprietary extendable attic ladder. This sits just above the trapdoor on hinges or pivots screwed to the inside or top of the opening frame and can be pulled down whenever you need it. Such a ladder, with its own built-in storage, makes your attic much more usable and accessible.

Purpose-made attic ladders are usually produced in aluminum with 2 or Sin wide treads. Most have two or three sliding sections with a safety catch that must be released before they can be extended. Some are linked to the trapdoor by a special bracket so that they come immediately to hand when you open it up.

When closed, the ladder lies across the tops of the joists next to the trapdoor, but it swings upwards over the opening before it can be pulled down, so it is essential that there is enough height above the opening for this.

Another important factor is the size of the opening itself which must be large enough to allow the ladder to pass through. This is not usually a problem if you are making a new opening, but if you want to fit the ladder to an existing opening, you will have to take some careful measurements. You will also need to know the distance from the floor of the attic (not the ceiling) to the floor of the room below.

For extremely limited attic space, there is a concertina attic ladder that folds up compactly rather than sliding.

Attic ladders can be simple or complex in design with risers and balustrades just like a proper staircase. Most come with some form of automatic trapdoor catch operated by relatively light finger-tip pressure on the door itself.

Obviously, the method of installing an attic ladder varies from one make and model to another, but usually it is quite a simple procedure. Often all that is necessary is to screw the hinges or pivots to the framework of the opening (on the same side as the trapdoor hinges) and fit the automatic catch to the other side of the opening. There may also be travel stops to adjust on the ladder and a bracket to fit to the trapdoor to hold the ladder so that it is easily reached.

Attics and Extensions

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Being able to get into the roof space of your home is important, not just because of the extra storage capacity it offers but also to be able to deal with emergencies like leaking roofs and burst pipes. and also to be able to install extra light fittings to the rooms below.

Most houses already have some form of hatchway providing access to the attic but it may not always be in the most convenient place, and in some instances there may be no access to the attic at all. In both situations you can make a new opening with comparatively little trouble.

The usual position of an attic hatchway is in a hall or over a landing. but in the latter case make sure it is not over the staircase itself. Do not put it near an external wall either if this meets the eaves of the roof, as there will not be enough headroom above the opening.

Another important consideration when positioning an opening is the space needed in the roof and in the room below for any attic ladder you intend fitting.

Having decided on the approximate position. locate the adjacent joists by tapping the ceiling and probing with a bradawl. or mark through from the loft if you can reach it by some other route.

Break through the ceiling between a pair of joists and open up the hole until you can make a saw cut alongside one of them. Then mark out the opening on the ceiling from this baseline. Its size will be determined by the joist spacing and since this will be too close to make the opening between the pair, it will have to span three. This means cutting through the center joist and linking it to the joists on each side with short “trimmer” joists. The wood used must be the same size as that of the original joists.

Before you cut through the intermediate joists. support the ceiling on each side of the opening with stout planks and wood or adjustable metal props.

Line the opening with 1 in thick planed wood the same depth as the joists and nailed in place flush with the ceiling. The corners of this can be simply butted together.

Then make up a plywood trapdoor for the opening. hinging it to the bottom of the lining and either fitting a magnetic catch on the opposite side or an automatic catch such as that supplied with an attic ladder.

Finally, nail lengths of mitered molding around the opening, driving the nails into the joists so that the molding holds the edges of the ceiling firmly in place.

Ridge, Eave, Verge, Valley, Hip tiles

Filed Under: DIY Outdoor, Do it yourself, Home repair    by: ITC

The tiles on each side of the roof apex are sealed by ridge tiles. These span both upper courses and are bedded on mortar.

Replacement is carried out by chiseling out the old mortar and levering the old tile off. Then a new one is fitted on a fresh bed of mortar. Slate roofs are treated in the same way although sometimes they may have lead sheet wrapped over the ridge bar instead.

Gable tiles

To avoid there being a toothed pattern to the gable edge of the roof, special wide tiles and slates are made which are one-and-a-half times the normal width, allowing a square edge to be produced.

Eaves tiles

To ensure that the overlapping pattern of the roof continues at the eaves, a course of shorter tiles or slates is nailed in place so that their ends are flush with the course immediately above, but their joints are staggered by a half tile width.

Valley and hip tiles

Where two roofs meet there must be some means of joining the courses of tiles to ensure a watertight seal. It is usual to form a gutter along the angle of the join to carry water away. Use zinc sheet, or valley tiles which are nailed to the roof members and often interlock with the adjoining courses.


1 Measuring the projection of the gable-end tiles; bed the undercloak tiles face down in mortar and tuck the inner edges under the felt.

2 Setting the end tiles into mortar on the undercloak; use alternate full-width and widthand-a-half tiles to level edge.

3 Repointing the verge after the mortar has hardened; a pigment added to the mortar will make the pointing less obtrusive.

4 Checking the size of a cut tile adjoining the valley; this must allow the valley tile to be firmly bedded down beside it.

5 Working from the bottom of the valley upwards, aligning the bottoms of the valley tiles with the adjacent cut tiles.

6 Bedding the first hip tile into mortar; this must be shaped to prevent it overhanging and is supported by a hip-iron.

Renewing an Area of Slates

Filed Under: DIY Outdoor, Do it yourself, Home repair    by: ITC

Slates are fixed to the roof in rows, or courses, each course overlapping the one below by at least half a slate length. In addition, the joins between slates in adjacent courses are staggered: in this way the joins are always covered by the slates above or below to ensure a water-tight construction.

Where the roof has a gable end, wider than normal slates are fitted to the ends of alternate courses to produce a square edge to the roof (these are known as “slate-and-a-half” slates). In addition, the edge slates at a gable end may be bedded on mortar laid on stacks of narrow slate strips known as creasing slates. These tilt the edges of the slates upwards so that rainwater runs down the roof to the gutters.

In addition to cutting them to size as described opposite, you will also have to make nail holes in them — no closer to the edge than lin. Use an old slate as a template for marking the holes.

Make the nail holes by drilling them or by driving a nail through with the slate supported on a block of wood. For safety and ease of working, do the cutting and drilling on the ground and carry the finished slates up to the roof. You will need 1 ‘Ain copper, zinc or aluminum roofing nails to hold the slates in place.

Remove the old slates from the roof using the slate ripper and starting with the upper courses of the area to be renewed. As you remove these upper slates, you will expose the heads of the nails holding the slates below. Cut these off with a pair of pincers.

Collect the slates and lower them to the ground with a bucket and rope, taking care with whole, undamaged ones, which you will be able to refit.

Having stripped off the old slates, inspect the battens below and if any are broken or rotten cut them out with a saw.

Begin fitting the new slates, starting at the lowest course and nailing them to the battens to recreate the overlapping pattern of the roof. Use two nails per slate and make sure it is fitted with the beveled lower edge uppermost to aid drainage.

Work your way up the roof, nailing the slates in place until the surrounding original slates make this impossible. Then fit the other slates with lead clips or toggle clips (see opposite) to complete the repair.