Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Final Failure & the Simpsons

I told the inspectors I wouldn't be back until Wednesday afternoon, but when I arrived I found 3 yellow sheets of paper stuffed in my front door jamb. I failed my final inspection on 3 counts.
  1. The inspector couldn't enter the building.
  2. There needs to be 3' of flat runnout at the bottom of the stairs, and some of the gravel had sunk down a bit.
  3. Lack of adequate hold-down on the porch roof.
Items 1 and 2 could have been handled had I been there. In fact there is nothing left to approve inside, but the inspectors have every right and are naturally welcome to make sure they caught everything. The reason I know that there is nothing left inside is that I had a final inspection 3 months ago in order to get occupancy and at that time there was a list of items to complete: front and back handrails, porch lights, finish siding, and a couple of little nits. Nothing about the porch roof structure, which was finished at that time.

Frankly, I've worked hard keep from using Simpson Strong-Ties in visible locations. The reason being that most of them are as ugly as sin, and meant to be used inside walls and covered over. On an exposed structure like a porch they really can detract from the look. Their popularity stems from the combination of increasing code requirements and cheaper construction methods and materials. Use a Simpson Strong-Tie and everyone is happy because the burden of failure falls on them. It's a CYA sort of thing.

I was delighted when my first final list made no mention of additional hold-downs on the downhill side of the porch roof. The engineer had made much of the uphill connection at the house, but was silent on the lower portion. In the absence of direction my builders had fastened them with a single #10, 4-inch, stainless steel deck screw. My real frustration at not being there for the latest final inspection was that I might have been able to distract him or at least point to the last inspection report and kept the focus on those few items.

When I described the whole situation to my octogenarian neighbor, Roxy Nelson, he laughed. He had commented to me long ago that he thought the roof was liable to blow off in a stiff wind. As a machinist he had used plenty of metal in his place, and he was skeptical about my solution.

I did finally look up some data and the likely uplift on each rafter is 350 pounds. Trying to find the pull-out resistance of the screw was more difficult, but it seemed clear that 350 pounds was a stretch. Moreover, it seemed clear that the real point of failure would be the screw pulling through the cedar. So, in the end the house may be uglier, but safer.

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