D.D. Ford Construction, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Laser levels have become nearly indispensable on residential construction sites. But what do you use in tight spaces, where a tripod-mount rotary laser would be cumbersome? Doug Ford's crews like the PLS2, a hand-held combination plumb, level, and square by Pacific Laser Systems. “It's fairly inexpensive, and it's small, so it's really easy to carry around,” Ford says. “You can check rooms and layouts for plumb, shoot a wainscoting line or a datum
Courtesy Pacific Laser Systems
line around the room, get in a bathroom, and do tile layouts.” About the size of a large tape measure, the unit runs on three AA batteries and can be mounted on a camera tripod or an included wall bracket. But because it is self-leveling, Ford says, “You can put it anywhere: on a ladder, on a chair, on the floor.” The PLS2 does not replace its larger cousins, but it complements them nicely. “It's more of a pocket tool. It can really become part of your toolbox.
Pacific Laser Systems. 800.601.4500. www.plslaser.com.
The Fechtel Co., Tampa, Fla.
“In the warm, humid Southwest, from Texas over to Florida, one of the issues we have is mold,” says custom builder Jay Fechtel. “And what mold needs is humid indoor air.” Central air conditioning does a good job of keeping indoor humidity under control—when it's running. But as Fechtel notes, “In the swing seasons, your A/C system doesn't run as often, and when your A/C system isn't working it isn't doing its dehumidification job.” To ensure all-season coverage, Fechtel typically installs a whole-house dehumidification system. One unit he uses is the Ultra-Aire APD 150 H by Therma-Stor, which provides fresh air ventilation and filtration as well as dehumidification. “It pulls a little bit from the outside and a little from the inside,” Fechtel explains. The unit also makes the central air work more efficiently. “You're reducing some of the latent load when you get some of the humidity out of the air.
The Portfolio Group, Estes Park, Colo.
Courtesy Town & Country Fireplaces
The regulations against wood-burning fireplaces that various communities in Colorado have implemented have driven custom builder Steve Nickel to search for a clean-burning unit that closely resembles a real masonry fireplace. A little more than a year ago, he decided to try Town & Country gas fireplaces in two of his firm's homes. “They're the closest thing to real masonry fireplaces that I've ever seen,” Nickel says. Using Town & Country's self-contained gas units, Nickel is able to provide the look of a real wood-burning fireplace without having to hire a mason to lay the firebox by hand. A tall opening, shallow firebox, and slanted back panel contribute to the fireplaces' classic Rumford masonry look.
Town & Country's fireplaces are designed with a flush hearth system that eliminates the need for a raised hearth to accommodate the gas valve and controls; controls can instead be hidden in a wall up to 6 feet away from the fire. The manufacturer's Decorative Direct Vent technology uses ample combustion airflow and high flue temperatures that provide a strong draft, lifting the gas-fueled flames nearly 30 inches high off the hearth, the maker says.
Goldberg General Contracting, Chicago
Courtesy Innovis Corp.
In custom building, the smallest things sometimes count for a lot. For homeowners, that might mean having a tiled shampoo niche in the shower placed exactly where they want it. For custom builders, the small blessing might be a preformed fitting that saves time and effort every time they have to build, say, a shampoo niche. Chicago custom builder Jake Goldberg uses Innovis' line of preformed aluminum alloy niches, which allows him to skip the process of fabricating a niche out of cement board. “The most important thing is, you don't have to waterproof them,” Goldberg says. “You just screw them in and caulk them.” The niches' thin flange lies flat enough on the face of the backer board to be buried in thin-set mortar or mastic. “They have a rough coating on them, so the tile sticks to them.” The company also produces coated aluminum corner shelves and corner benches that install in a similar fashion.