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                                                                                                                                              Ask Judith

Looking Forward to Winter (Not) and Twisting Joists
by Judith Capen, RA

     Q. The basement in our Hill East           Your most economical way
corner house is valuable living space,     to add heat is to go the Fry
but it is freezing in winter. There’s no   Plumbing’s radiator graveyard,
heat in the basement and we prefer not     find some radiators that match
to insulate and drywall for money and      those in the house, have them
space reasons. Can you suggest floor-       dip-stripped, refinished, and
ing beyond carpet for the very cold floor   connect them to your existing
slab? Should we risk radiant heated        boiler.
floors or would you recommend we in-             I strongly advise against
stall radiators like we have upstairs?     carpeting unless you are par-
     Thank you so much for your excel-     ticularly fond of Eau du Mil-
lent column!                               dew. If your existing concrete
                                           floor is in good shape without
                                           cracks, heaves, holes, and hol-
Freezing in Winter                         low spots you can paint it or
     A. You’re off to a good start by
                                           stain it for aesthetics and use
not insulating and drywalling (done
                                           area rugs in the winter, send-
the usual way a guaranteed cause of
                                           ing them out to be cleaned and
mold). As for cold, having no heat in
                                           aired in the summer.
the basement is definitely a cause for
                                                I know of people who have
chill, as are leaky windows.
                                           used cork (1/2” thick) in base-
     The temperatures of basements
                                           ments as it is supposed to be
are moderated because so much of the
                                           moisture-friendly. It would
wall is below grade. The earth’s tem-
                                           also insulate the floor making
perature remains constant at about
                                           it feel warmer in the winter
55o F year round below three or so
                                           (good) as well as in the sum-
feet making basement space cooler
                                           mer (not as good).
than outdoors in the summer and
                                                Be sure to check your
warmer in the winter (although 55o F
                                           windows and tighten them
is still pretty cool).
                                           up if they are original to the
     The winter earth-sheltering effect
                                           house. Add storm windows.
means you can heat the space with less
                                           Resist the temptation to re-
energy if the outdoor temperature is
                                           place with vinyl.
below 55, but the space may still seem
                                                You really don’t want to
cool because the surface temperature
                                           add radiant heat unless your
of uninsulated below grade walls and
                                           ceiling height is over eight feet    Corner houses have more exposed, above-grade wall area than attached townhouses, which can contribute
slab is 55o. But, if you have six-and-                                                                to cold temperatures in winter. Photo by Andrew Lightman
                                           since you have to pour a top-
a-half foot basement ceilings you will
                                           ping in which to embed heat-
have very little wall lower than three
                                           ing elements, reducing ceiling
feet from grade and thus won’t benefit                                                 (with drainage) for bigger windows.                    If you are still feeling chilly, or
from earth sheltering.                                                                Then, when you dig out and install a have gigantic heating bills after win-
                                                If you do have a short ceiling you
     With a corner house you have a lot
                                           could plan your basement dig out, new insulated slab (to avoid heating dows are tight and you add heat to the
more wall area subject to outside tem-
                                           likely requiring underpinning, possibly the ground all the way to China with basement, you may need to insulate.
peratures than attached row houses
                                           involving house waste lines, probably your heating system), you can install                       Tune in next month for advice on
with only front and rear walls exposed                                                radiant heat, connected to your exist- insulating your basement walls
                                           including nice masonry window wells
to exterior temperatures.                                                             ing boiler with its own thermostat.
92 ★ HillRag | August 2010
    Q. We have at least one
roof joist and several floor joists
that are twisting (most visible
at the point where they enter the
pocket in the common wall).
    Can you recommend an ex-
perienced contractor who knows
                                                                             •   Renovation
how to install perpendicular
bracing or would be able to sug-                                             •   Basements & Additions
gest another fix?                                                             •   Kitchens & Baths
                                                                             •   Green Building
Twist and Shout                                                              •   Custom Cabinetry Millwork
     A. I’m very glad you no-
ticed your twisting joists: they
could be twisting their ways to-
                                                          “A Resident of Capitol Hill”
ward a very serious problem, like
     I talked to Jason at Olde
Town Engineers who, using
wonderful structure-speak, ob-
served that the twisting prob-
lem will get worse and your
floor and roof structure will get
weaker. (Surviving the snows
of last December and Febru-
ary is an encouraging sign that
collapse may not be imminent).
                                        SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Blocking (what you identified as
“perpendicular bracing”) could
halt “lateral torsional buckling,”
according to Jason. Translated,
that means failure. Falling down.
The roof ending up in the second                    Licensed, Bonded & Insured
floor bedroom. The second floor
ending up in the parlor. You get
the picture.
     Modern building codes re-          SOLAR INSTALLATION
quire blocking or bracing at            Have your system installed by DC’s #1
floor and roof joists to prevent            Solar Installation Company!!!!
their twisting (and propagating
the twisting…) but our 19th
century houses don’t always con-
form to those requirements.
     But back your problem.              Receive a FREE Solar Energy System after Federal, State and
Definitely install blocking at                            Solar Solution Incentives.*
all your joists that do not have
                                        Solar Solution is also offering Power Purchase Agreements for
it. The spacing of rows of block-       residence in DC. Start buying clean power at a lower rate than
ing should generally not exceed                                your current rates.
eight feet.
                                         Sign up for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and SAVE
     If the joists are already twist-            Thousands every year while going green. **
ed, that could mean installing the
blocking to stabilize their current     Contact a company representative to discuss your options to go
                                                green or visit us at
position and prevent them from
turning any more. By installing                         Third Party Financing Available.
blocking between all your joists,
you begin to tie the entire floor
diaphragm together so all the
members work together. A col-                          Contact Sales: 240.395.1379
league of mine explained why                10411 Motor City Drive, Suite 750, Bethesda, MD 20817
a particular rickety old hotel in              *For system smaller than 10KW **For Business Located in DC only

                                                                                                        ★ 93
                                                                                                                       Cape May was still standing as
                                                                                                                       the “many sticks” principle. At-
                                                                                                                       taching many smallish mem-
                                                                                                                       bers to each other with nails
                                                                                                                       and joints means some can
                                                                                                                       fail a hundred years later but
                                                                                                                       their framing companions will
                                                                                                                       take up the slack. Sometimes,
                                                                                                                       too, it seems like parts of old
                                                                                                                       buildings are still standing out
                                                                                                                       of habit as much as anything
                                                                                                                       else. We’ll hope the habit and
                                                                                                                       many sticks principle will keep
                                                                                                                       your roof and floor up until you
                                                                                                                       can install blocking, to stop the
                                                                                                                       propagation and the “lateral
                                                                                                                       torsional buckling.”
                                                                                                                            You should pay particular
                                                                                                                       attention to the joist pockets
                                                                                                                       in the brick. If the pockets are
                                                                                                                       larger than the joists, you might
                                                                                                                       be able to shim the joist side-
                                                                                                                       ways in the pockets to begin
                                                                                                                       to reverse the direction of the
                                                                                                                       twist or, at the least, stabilize
                                                                                                                       the twist to prevent its propa-
                                                                                                                       gation. Then again, you may
                                                                                                                       discover your mortar is powder
                                                                                                                       and you will have to rebuild
                                                                                                                       the pockets before exerting
                                                                                                                       sideways (or, as the structural
                                                                                                                       engineers call it, “lateral”) force
                                                                                                                       on them.
                                                                                                                            Once the joists start twist-
                                                                                                                       ing it is very hard to take the
                                                                                                                       twist out (like twisted 2xs from
                                                            NEWMAN GALLERY                                             the lumberyard). Once you
                                                            & CUSTOM FRAMES                                            find an experienced carpenter
                                                                    Serving Capitol Hill since 1984                    you might discuss whether he/
                                                                                                                       she has ideas about reversing
                                                                                                                       the twist.
                                                                                                                            To find the right person,
                                                                                                                       as always, my advice is to talk
                                                                                                                       to everyone you know (and re-
                                                                                                                       spect) who has had work done
         ★  New Roofs ★ Preventive Maintenance                                                                         and ask for recommendations.
           ★ Repairs ★ Re-roofing ★ Fascia/Soffits                                                                     Then talk to the recommended
             ★ Roof Coating ★ Chimney Repairs                                                                          carpenters and select someone
                                                                                                                       based on references and cred-
            ★ Skylights ★ Gutters/Downspouts
               ★ Rubber ★ Metal ★ Copper                                                                                    So, Twist and Shout, in this
               ★ Shingles ★ Slates ★ Shakes                        Rotating exhibits of local artists                  case you can’t really work it all
                                                                     “High quality design and                               Meanwhile, walk softly!
                         F R E E E S T I M AT E S
                 “40 YEARS EXPERIENCE”
                                                            preservation framing are our top priorities”
                                                                                                                       Judith Capen, opinionated ar-
              F A M I L Y O W N E D & O P E R AT E D   Custom designed mats • Wide selection • Work done on premises
                                                                                                                       chitect, writes this column each
                                                                      513 11th St., SE (Eastern Market Metro)          month. You can reach her with
       202 ★ 271 ★ 4377                                                   Tue.-Sat. 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
                                                                                                                       questions at judith.capen@archi-
   LICENSED                  ★ BONDED    ★ INSURED         
94 ★ HillRag | August 2010
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   CHGC’s Annual Bulb Giveaway
   The Capitol Hill Garden Club is giving away free spring-flowering bulbs
   for use in public spaces on Capitol Hill. Daffodils and crocus have been
   chosen as they come back and proliferate every year. Applicants should
   include a plan for planting, which must be visible from the street. A
   photograph is appreciated. The plan must also designate the person
   responsible for the planting. Coordinator Amy Haddad says no qualified
   applicant will be turned away!

   Individuals and groups are invited to apply. Applications are due on
   September 15. The bulbs will be distributed in October. To request an
   application form (which can be submitted electronically), please contact
   CHGC at or phone
   Amy Haddad at 202.486.7655.

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                                                                                                                      ★ 95

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