Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OUT with the OLD!

I don't know about you but I am glad to see 2009 go. Most of us saw things in the economy that we had never seen. My dad saw the depression of the late twenties and early thirties and it was far worse.
2009 was bad enough for most of us and we'll eventually be telling our grandkids all about how tough it was. Of course, it may not be over.
2010 holds much hope and we welcome it like we would a rescue helicopter to a sinking ship.
We at FCC were fortunate in that we had new work to keep us going mainly because we've been building here for over thirty years. Newer contractors had a much tougher time and sadly some even had to go out of business.
There are painful lessons to be learned from a recession. We learn to be more frugal and live within our means as a country and in our own families. I am confident we will come out on the other side stronger and perhaps humbled.


"When things go wrong as they sometimes will, When the road you're trudging seems all up hill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile, but you have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest if you must, but don't you quit. Life is queer with its twists and turns, As every one of us sometimes learns, And many a failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out. Don't give up though the pace seems slow--You may succeed with another blow, Success is failure turned inside out--The silver tint of the clouds of doubt, And you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems so far; So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--It's when things seem worst that you must not quit."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cold Weather Building

There are a lot of myths about building in winter. I have heard for years that lumber splits and shatters when you try and nail it when it is frozen the work takes three times as long etc. etc. etc. It is true that lumber with a high moisture content is more prone to splitting than dry wood, it is generally not a problem with good quality graded lumber. Plywood, OSB and metal roofing is not affected by cold at all.
Cold weather has a negative affect on tools which lowers efficiency and profitablility. Saws, nailers, compressors and generators are much harder to keep running in cold weather unless careful measures are taken.
Wearing bulky cold weather gear also slows down progress, but if the work is carefully planned it can be done efficiently. Keeping a large crew motivated is very difficult in cold conditions so a small crew is ideal.
Anyone can work in below zero temperatures but it takes care and planning to work profitably in those conditions. Once you start getting 10 below and colder it becomes more and more problematic depending what you are doing.
I've heard people say that after it gets below zero it all feels the same. These people have never worked at extreme temperatures. There is a big difference from -10 to -30 and even more at -40 and -50.
We have done metal roofing at -50 but it was very slow. The batteries in our drills would only last a few minutes and it was hard to keep our finger warm. It was doable as long as there was no wind but it wasn't profitable at those extreme temperatures.
At zero and above it is very comfortable as long as the wind isn't blowing. Once the wind starts blowing it is very difficult to stay warm even if you can keep the equipment working.
Most winter temperatures in south central Alaska are only extreme for short periods of time so it is fairly easy to keep working throughout the winter.

Reflect upon your present blessings,
of which every man has plenty;
not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some."
Charles Dickens

Monday, December 14, 2009

Metal Roofs

Metal roofs have become the standard in rural Alaska. Durable, attractive, low maintenance, easily installed, good in wind, fire resistant and great for sliding snow, metal roofs come in several different profiles and many colors. We primarily use the 29 gauge Norclad profile with #14 screws and 15# felt underlayment. We always sheath our roofs with plywood or OSB instead of using purlins.
The roofs are called lifetime roofs and will indeed outlast most of us. There are many of the old tin roofs put on in the thirty's and forties that are still functional.
From a remote builder's standpoint, a properly installed metal roof rarely prompts a warranty call. I have even seen improperly installed roofs perform well.

He who knows all the answers has not yet been asked all the questions. - Author unknown

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cement Based Siding

Over the years, having rebuilt more than a few homes destroyed by fire, a product has become more and more popular. The product is Cement based siding. It is very resistant to fire and looks similar to any other lap siding. The cost is slightly less than Cedar and much more fire proof. It needs to be painted but is pre-primed and takes paint very well.
With Cement based siding and a metal roof your chances of catching on fire are greatly reduced.
If your lot is heavily wooded with spruce and you want a little extra peace of mind, cement based siding might be a good option.
We don't have pricing for it on our site yet but we can easily figure it for you on an individual basis.

Where you end up isn't the most important thing.
It's the road you take to get there.
The road you take is what you'll look back on and call your life.
Tim Wiley

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Everyone has heard all of the Thanksgiving cliches so there is no need to repeat them in this blog.
On Thanksgiving day take one minute (use a timer) and count all of the things you have to be thankful for. If you are an American, you can start with being thankful for our troops overseas who leave their families to fight and even die on our behalf. Then continue on to hands, feet, eyes, senses, air and the ability to breathe it. By the time a minute is up you will probably think of many more but if you can't that's OK, at least you made a start. In the worst of times there are always many things to be thankful for.
Many people have so many extreme problems that they really can't see their way to be thankful. It's not that they are unthankful, they just can't see through the fog of their misery. Remember, there are always people that are more miserable than you. Reach out to them with a kind word or a smile. It may do you more good than it does them.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention." Oscar Wilde

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alternative Heat

There are many ways to heat your home or cabin depending on the availability of electrical power. In this article we are going to address heaters that don't require electricity.
We really have three choices in rural Alaska. Oil, Propane or Wood. I am going to talk about Oil and Propane. Natural gas will not be part of this conversation as it is not available where there is no electricity.
Propane is simple because it has pressure so you don't have to worry about placing your tank higher than your heater. There are a number of propane heaters that can vent through the wall and are fairly efficient. You can also use the same propane tank to power lights, stove, refrigerators, and water heaters which can really simplify things. The disadvantages are that propane doesn't produce as many BTU's per gallon as heating oil, it is a little cumbersome to haul around and it doesn't flow well at minus 40 and 50 unless you have a very large tank.
Heating oil will yeild approximately 35% more BTU's than propane but you have to weigh the cost of each fuel to make a good decision. Most efficient oil heaters that vent through the wall require electricity. This is because the efficient heaters have electronics and heat exchangers. There are many oil heaters that work without electricity but they require a chimney on your roof. The advantages are more BTU's, fuel oil is a little easier to find and transport and #1 fuel oil will flow in any temperature.

Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent. - Unknown

Friday, November 20, 2009

Contractor Licenses

I have never been one to berate anyone for not having a licensed contractor do work for them, after all they are usually cheaper than legal contractors. There are risks however, and the longer I am in business the more stories I hear and the more calls we get about finishing work for unhappy homeowners.

Story #1. Homeowner hires an unlicensed contractor to help with some carpentry work. Nail bounces into contractor's eye, gets bill for $13,000.00. (ouch!)

Story#2. Homeowner hires unlicensed contractor to haul materials to jobsite. Contractor gets seriously injured on ATV. Requires medivac, surgery, re-hab etc. etc. etc. Homeowner's insurance has to pay over one million, cancels policy. Very difficult to obtain insurance with a million dollar claim on record.

There are many stories like this, most include a bankruptcy filing for the homeowner. It is a good idea to request license and insurance paperwork from your contractor. Odds are that everything will be fine but the longer you live the more you have to live by the law of averages. It is like the law of gravity, you can't ignore it.

"You can't learn everything the hard way" (Anonymous Contractor)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Over the past 30 years or so I have experimented with many different generators. Then, about ten years ago or so I bought our first Honda EU2000. The search is over! The EU2000 is the most powerful small generator I have ever used. You can actually run two Skill 77 worm drive saws at the same time. Best of all, it uses very little gas. Need more power? Buy two EU2000's and hook them together with the optional connecting cord and you have 4000 watts of quiet power. The inverter on the 2000 is a Tru Sine inverter and you can run computers, charge batteries and sensitive equipment without damaging.

Under 50 pounds, it is easy to carry and stow in an airplane, sled or 4 x 4 trailer. At around a thousand bucks, that's only 50 cents per watt!

There are plenty of small generators out there but for dependable power the Honda can't be beat.

The only disadvantage I have found is that it doesn't want to start in cold weather. You must keep it from getting too cold, by that I mean below 20 degrees. Fortunately, it is small enough to fit into a car, truck or even a tent to warm it up.

“Whatever you are be a good one.”~Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Firm Foundations

The subject of foundations will bring up heated discussion whenever you get a group of builders together. Block stemwall, styrofoam block, Helical pier, Triodetic, All Weather wood, Steel piling, post and pad, sono tube, wood piling, slab on grade, mono slab and ""just do it right" with poured walls. Of course there are many other types but these are the most common for residential construction in Alaska, we have used each one of them at one time or another.

The truth is, all of these foundations have their place. Not one is right in all applications. Location, conditions, application, availability of materials, time life and cost all go into the equation. Post and pad is a staple in Rural Alaska but you wouldn't use it in Anchorage or hardly anywhere else on the road system. Block and Poured walls are common on the road system but you won't see it in a rural village as the cost for transport is too high.

If you're building a small vacation cabin you are not likely to use poured walls or block as it will bust your budget. You're not going to pour walls, lay block or pour a slab on perma frost either.

There are many foundation systems to choose from based on your location, soil conditions and budget. Whenever I hear someone say they're going to do it the 'right way', I must ask myself, "according to whom".

Never answer an anonymous letter~Yogi Berra

Friday, November 13, 2009


Ice travel is taken for granted here in the Greatland. We at Friesen's Custom Cabins make our living by hauling materials and transporting crew and supplies over the ice.

Traveling on the ice can be deadly if precautions aren't taken. More than one unlucky soul has lost his life and many more have lost vehicles and equipment by falling through the ice. Most of us judge ice conditions by past experience or by watching what others are doing. You don't really want to be the first person of the year to drive on the ice nor do you want to be the last. I have attached a link that will help you in determining whether it is safe to travel or not. Give yourself plenty of margin for error and you should be fairly safe.
TIP: For testing ice depth, you can use a chain saw. Just run the bar down until water starts coming through the hole. Measure your bar and you have a very quick way of checking your ice.
In March and April your bar is not going to be long enough but by then you'll know you have plenty of ice for most activities.

"There is no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day." ~ Alexander Woollcott

On Burning Wood

Ah, the smell of burning wood. It is the aroma of winter in most of our state. With new technology in the past few decades, woodstoves have become more decorative and more efficient.
The days of the old barrel or sheetmetal stove has given way to the modern internal damper and catalytic converter with external make up air and little tiny fireboxes.
I have to smile when I see a finely stacked woodpile with very finely split dried wood. Most wood in these wood piles are what I would use for kindling. Why do so many people split their wood so small?
For almost forty years, I have been burning wood. I rarely split wood any smaller than what will fit in the firebox. The bigger the firebox the better. Unless you are using a wood cookstove, which is extremely rare these days, you don't need to split the wood so small. Try to resist splitting small round logs at all. They will hold a fire much longer if not split
Also, try mixing in a little green wood. If you fire up your stove for fifteen or twenty minutes each day to get the stove pipe nice and hot you won't need to worry about creosote.
If you get worried about creosote, drop a tow chain down the chimney and swirl it around for a minute or so, this will knock any loose creosote off the inside of the chimney.
Also, take the chimney cap off at the beginning of winter, this will allow better flow for the smoke and keep creosote from gathering on the cap itself.
More about burning wood on future blogs.

To rejoice in another's prosperity, is to give content to your own lot: to mitigate another's grief, is to alleviate or dispel your own. Thomas Edwards

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Blog Jitters

Oddly enough, I have never read a blog, let alone posted one, but here goes. It looks like we are into a normal winter, even if we got off to a slow start.
We are hoping for plenty of ice on the lakes and rivers and enough snow to make travel smooth. I guess that's like asking for a perfect winter. Not too cold but cold enough for thick ice. Plenty of snow but not too much to keep the ice from getting thick. Cold first so the ice has a chance to get thick, but that makes the frost in the ground go too deep and freeze water and sewer lines.
Oh well, we'll have to settle with whatever we get.

"An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be"
Short and funny quote by, Anonymous.