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What's in Your Attic?
Email: donald@best2inspect.com
If Walls Could Talk (tm)

I'd like to thank Jim Morrison of Allan Morrison Home Inspections Inc. in MA for allowing me to reprint some of his "If Walls Could Talk..." articles here on my website. I'm sure you'll find these articles as usefull and helpful as I did.

The Morrison College of Construction Knowledge

When you have some work that you want done around your house, its important to be able to describe it clearly to a prospective contractor for two reasons: 1) They may base their decision on whether or not to take you on as a client on your description of the task.  If you can't accurately explain what you want, you may end up wasting everyone's time. 2) If you use words like: "thingy", "whatzamajig", or "that-big-electrical-plumbing-and-heating-type-thing", it makes the contractor's pupils turn into little dollar signs, because they know you haven't a clue what you're talking about.  So read on and study up if you want to be a true "house-keteer".

Romex: A brand name for the generic "non-metallic sheathed electrical cable" you see being installed these days.  This is the safest wiring yet.

BX: Another brand name referring to the "armored cable" that was installed between the 1930's and the 1950's.  It has a corrugated metal jacket on the exterior.  This is often, but not always grounded and as long as it is in good condition, it is safe.

Knob and tube:  The first kind of residential wiring.  It is ungrounded, at least 70 years old,  patently unsafe, and should be replaced with modern wiring whenever encountered.  Some electricians disagree on this point, but I advocate replacing this stuff immediately.

Black and Tan: My drink of preference in the local shebeen.  Plied with one or two, I am infinitely more charming and pleasant to be around.  Try it.

Damper: This is the small metal door in the top of your fireplace you have to open before lighting a fire.  It is often mistakenly referred to as a "flue"

Flue: This is the column within your chimney that combustion products from the fireplace, heating system, etc. travel through to reach the top and vent outside.

Girder:  In most houses, this is the large beam (most often a 6x8), supported by several columns running down the center of the basement.  You might have more than one girder in your basement.

Joists:  These are the long, thinner planks of wood (usually 2x8's spaced about 16 inches on center) running from the girder to the exterior walls.

Sills: This is the 4x6 wood timber running along the top of the foundation.  It is what the rest of the house is framed on, and it is the first place we typically find termites.

Studs: 1. Found in abundance at the Times-Courier Christmas party.  The men who write for this paper are, by definition, studs. 2. The vertical pieces of lumber in a wall assembly, most often 2x4's or 2x6's are also called studs.

Sheathing: The boards or plywood that siding and roofing are attached to.  When these boards or plywood are found beneath  your floors, they are called "subflooring"

Flashing: This is a piece of metal placed between two intersecting planes on the exterior of your house.  It is meant to prevent rain and snow from leaking into small joints and causing the wood in the house to rot.  It should be found between your chimney and roof, between decks and the house, over windows and doors, etc.  Some people substitute copious quantities of caulking for flashing in these locations, but they are almost exclusively Republicans.

Furnace:  This term refers to a heating system which heats and distributes warm air throughout a space.  If you have registers in your house, you have a furnace.  A boiler is a heating system that heats and distributes water (or steam) throughout a space.  If you have baseboards or radiators in your house, you have a boiler. 

Drywall: Gypsum wallboard  also referred to as Sheetrock

Blueboard: This is a gypsum board with a water resistant blue paper on the face (hence the name)

Greenboard:  A heavier, more dense gypsum board with an even more water resistant green paper on its face.  It is more expensive than blueboard so it is generally only used in wet or humid locations.

Wonderboard: A very heavy cementitious wallboard material most often used behind tiled shower walls.  It is impervious to water and though expensive, it is worth the extra money for the longevity.

Plugs: These are found at the end of an electrical cord.  The wall mounted device they are inserted into is called a receptacle (not a socket).

Reading and understanding this column earns you a B.A. from the Morrison College of Construction Knowledge.  If there's a real estate agent out there who wants to translate realtor-speak from those listing sheets (you know the ones where is says: "north facing roof slope is ready for a skylight", but it means: "hole in roof where Uncle Clem fell through"), I'll gladly step aside for a month and give you this space.  Mastering that vocabulary earns you an M.A. in BS.

I've stayed away from the subject of plumbing fittings because I don't think a family newspaper is the appropriate place to write about cocks and nipples, but believe me, they're out there and they're not what you think.  If you have any questions about home inspections or construction in general, please contact me care of this website.

(c) 2003 Jim Morrison