This post is a combination of three shorter posts that contractor Barry Morgan published between May & November 2011. Barry is a professional handyman, working in coastal Delaware. At the time, a large part of his business came in the form of crawlspace encapsulations. As someone who spent some time working in California’s crawlspaces, and they have that name for a reason, I empathize.

Barry if anything is a great investigator. I gathered these posts here in a sorta Contractor’s Notebook. As you read, I’ll point out that together, Barry & I shared a mantra. “Always think about the next guy.” Hopefully you will see this point in the sections below. Enjoy. ~jb bartkowiak, editorBuildingMoxie.com.


Roofing Layers Peeled Back

Shoddy Roof Work Leads to Major Damage

JB’s post yesterday on licensing requirements for trades folks in different states got me thinking about a job I worked on last week. It started as an attempt to locate a leak on the front of a two story house near the bay (aka Assawoman Bay).

The family had ants and water coming in near the upper corner of a window on the first floor. It sat just below a porch ceiling. I suspected a bad flashing job where the roof met the building. And some exploration showed this to be likely.

Editor’s Note: I talk about my own porch flashing hack on my own house, here.

Still, there were signs that more was going on, a ton of caulk here and poorly cut shingles there. As I tallied the list I finally suggested to the the family that we replace the roof shingles and remove the siding on the front of the house from the porch up.

Sometimes it’s Best to Pull it Apart and Start Over

Taking everything off and putting it back right sometimes seems like the best choice when dealing with materials applied in layers. The leak demanded we remove some of the material but we agreed to remove it all, right down to the wood.
Missing fasteners Unnailed Rafter Tie

I am glad we did because the list of things wrong with the porch grew the further along we got. I was seriously taken aback by the mistakes and oversights. Crucial fasteners were missing, plywood was run the wrong direction and the ledger had pulled 1 ¼” away from the house. As it turned out, the skin (shingles, siding & caulk) was holding this thing together.

This porch was downright dangerous and we ended up dismantling and rebuilding it from the ceiling up. The work was about ten years old.

The point, here is not to call someone out on a bad job. (And honestly I do not even know if the builder had been licensed in the state of Delaware.) It is just a good example of how, often, the things we put together impact the health and safety of others. Keeping this in mind is a pretty strong motivator to do a careful, comprehensive job.


Crawlspace Pose #1: The Emperor

Crawlspace Pose #1 - The Emperor

Best used for detail work or supervisory applications.

Illustration by Raw Bean


Compressive Stress – A Story from the Crawlspace (A Fiction for the Reality of Construction)

A Badly Compressed Piece of Wood 1

Crawlspaces can be stressful places. They are dark and often hard to move around in. One can feel the weight of the building above and this uncomfortable, claustrophobic circumstance colors a workers decision making.

These photos show a piece of 1 x 4 pine. I pulled it from a makeshift support column in the crawlspace of a circa 1860’s home this week. It has withstood a tremendous amount of compressive stress parallel to the grain. I was fascinated by this piece of wood and could not stop wondering about the circumstances in which this undersized shim found itself carrying so much weight.

So, I made up a back story:

35 years ago…

Nathan was on auto pilot. He got that way after 6 hours in a crawlspace. He looked along the bottom of the sinking row of joists before him. They were logs really, with the bark still on their underside and only the top cut flat to support the floor. The bark made it really difficult to tell the woods condition. It was past three, it had to be, and it was Friday and Gene had left early. But here he was blocking up joists on this stupid old house.

Would This Article Also Help?  Building Moxie's 1st Annual Parade of Tool Belts :: Quick Shopping Tips

A Badly Compressed Piece of Wood 2Nathan was taking his lead from those who had come before him. Those who had tried to fill up this crawlspace, solid with wood. If the floor is sinking throw some more wood at it. Cut a 4 x 4 and slam it in upright under this joist and pile some blocks and shims under that one.

Nathan was about over it, the moist dirt had been grating at his scalp since he had left his cap outside at lunch. He was getting paid to care about a space that people had been paid to care about before. Only they hadn’t cared much. Maybe they weren’t paid much.


Nathan had cared at 9 AM this morning even though he was not being paid much. He prided himself that he gave a damn. But he was coming to the end of the wood he had brought down for shimming. He needed one piece. If Gene were out there he could have handed him a piece through the vent.

Nathan thought about the long trip out of the crawlspace on his belly. Then he thought about the trip back in. He reached out around with his hands feeling for something he could use for a shim. This area of the house was heavy. He needed a friggin’ 4 x 4, or at least a two by four on its side but all he came with was a short piece of 1 x 4 which had probably been down here since they built the house. He thought of the three long trips on his sharply protesting stomach and unceremoniously slammed the 1 x 4 into place.

Later that Same Day

Veronica threw a piece of popcorn which hit Nathan on the nose. “Wake up!” she said.

“Sorry,” he said, tenderly rubbing his belly. “I was just thinking about work.”


Thanks for reading. ~jb