Q. My brother worked in construction but doesn’t now. He pointed out some potential problems with our renovation, and I wonder if they’re serious or not. One, there is only one 2 x 4 at the bottom of the wall studs, not two, which makes it more difficult to attach the tall baseboard we chose. Another is that most of the wall studs are 24 inches apart instead of 16, and bowed, not straight, and wallboard screws might miss the wood. My brother says this is a problem. Do you agree?
A. Your brother made some very, um, constructive comments, some that may raise real concerns, and others that are more opinions. First, using a double “base plate,” the 2 x 4s at the bottom of the wall framing, is just more expensive and is rarely done. The only reason to do it would be to make it easier to randomly attach the base trim boards, which just as easily attach with finish nails at 16 inches on center.
A combination of the finish nails and a construction adhesive saves lumber. Placing the wall studs at 24 inches on center is supposed to save money by reducing the number of wall studs needed, which, in this time of drastically increased material costs, might seem like a better idea. It actually costs more, though, because half-inch-thick wallboard will be flimsier to span the extra 8 inches, and the next thickness, 5/8-inch, offsets the cost savings of the wall studs, so you get a slightly weaker structure wall for the same or higher cost.
I recently did an inspection and found another common problem: There were wall studs missing at corners and ceiling joists missing at wall and ceiling junctions. Without these “nailers,” there’s no place to screw-attach the gypsum wallboard, which can’t just be left to flop in a corner. On the worksite, everyone has a complaint about something, it seems, and the drywall subcontractors want good locations to easily attach, such as the nailers and straight wall studs.
I have seen many good carpenters, over the years, inspect the lumber as it’s delivered, holding the planks and studs so that they can stare down the length of the wood and check the straightness, which is generally achieved by letting the freshly cut lumber either kiln-dry or air-dry for many weeks before shipment. Unfortunately, the mills were behind when construction demand went up after the coronavirus crisis, so lumber is “greener” when it ships, filled with much more moisture and able to bow and warp more. This will be a problem, and I expect more calls from people who will be misguided away from this real cause when there are cracks in the walls. The blame will be placed on structural design, a fallacy, to deflect from the movement of wood with greater moisture content as it acclimates to a house when the heat gets turned on over the following winter. You may see this, too. Good luck!
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