Think Twice, Cut Once

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

The sawThe saw is one of the oldest carpentry tools in the world. Records documenting their use date back to ancientEgypt. No records however have been found indicating when the adage of measure twice cut once found its way into the construction lexicon. My guess would not long after the first saw was invented.

The saw had remained basically unchanged until modern times when they were able to be manufactured. The greatest innovation taking place in the 20th century with the introduction of the electric powered saw. Electric power spawned the creation of new types of saws. Specialty tools that made cutting not only easier, but quicker.

Joist notching diagramElectric powered saws also had the unforeseen consequence of providing for new levels of spectacular hacking.

While inspecting the floor structure in the basement of an older house I happened upon an interesting construction choice.

Floor structure seems at times to be the bane of plumbers and more often wannabe plumbers. All those boards obstructing a clear run for pipes. What's a contractor to do?

Go to the tool box and find the electric powered saw of course. Modern construction technology at it's best.

And worst.

Floor structure can be cut or drilled. Cutting and notching is not advisable, but allowed following certain specific parameters. In the case of support beams cutting is generally never an acceptable practice, all though limited drilling is allowed.Notch in structural support beam

Large notch in a main structural support beam

This particular house I was inspecting had two solid wood support beams. The two beams ran perpendicular to one another. At this juncture was actually two seams. The beam that ran from side to side was two sections of solid wood with the front to back support joining at this point. The seams were all appropriately supported on a lally column. The issue at this important structural point was that one of the side to side support beams had been notched several inches in order to install a heating pipe. A second pipe, that appeared original, (this says the concept of drilling instead of notching is not new) was installed thorough a drilled hole. The notch effectively reduces the beams over all size and thus its strength to the distance from the notch to the uncut edge less the hole.

The question is why notch when drilling would not have compromised the beam. Most likely it was easier to install the pipe by notching.

Apparently thou shall not notch became a lost practice in later years.

Or someone wasn't thinking.Ā 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Carol Zingone
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS
I have learned so much over the years from home inspections...and can point out areas of concern that are visible when showing homes, keeping my buyers aware that all is not necessarily as it appears. Happy New Year!
Dec 31, 2012 10:40 PM #10
David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
RealtorĀ®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

James always great AR posts, I just want to make sure that I wish you all a superb New Year with only the best of everything, and all happiness!

Dec 31, 2012 11:00 PM #11
Melissa Zavala
Broadpoint Properties - Escondido, CA
Broker, Escondido Real Estate, San Diego County

When you rush a job and cut corners, it never comes out right. This is a perfect example.

Dec 31, 2012 11:31 PM #12
Gary Frimann, CRS, GRI
Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates - Gilroy, CA
REALTOR and Broker
Measure twice, cut once was originated thought by grandfather who was a carpenter (and a perfectionist) when I was a kid. I think it is a great adage which can be used in many facets of life.
Dec 31, 2012 11:50 PM #13
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Once I commented on somebody's post (maybe a previous one of yours!) and said that in my experience plumbers seem to be the worst offenders for this sort of thing.  Privately I was contacted and my hiney was chewed up!  At the end of the tirade, over the phone, I simply asked, "What do you see instead as the worst offenders?"  There was no answer!

Dec 31, 2012 11:57 PM #14
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

While some of the best plumbers know better than this and might say they would never do it, the fact remains that this sort of thing is all to common in relation to doing plumbing work.  Perhaps the work is not being done by plumbers :)

Jan 01, 2013 12:38 AM #15
Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366
Dry Rot and Water Damage Mobile - 916-765-5366 - Placerville, CA
General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage

If people only knew what goes on under their home.  :)

Thanks James.

Jan 01, 2013 01:02 AM #16
Kenneth Cole
Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, - Staten Island, NY
NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson

James;  What the heck do homeowners have to do when having home improvements done?  Go to a school on codes?

What a shame some contractors take the easy road and not bother about codes.

I had a plumber ask me if he could put a vent pipe somewhere.  I asked "What does the code say"  When he told me, I responded, "Put it where the code says"

Great post.

Jan 01, 2013 01:51 AM #17
Lori Williams
Lake Wylie, Charlotte, Gastonia Homes for Sale ABR, CDPE, SFR, ASP, - Gastonia, NC
Lake Wylie, Gastonia, SW Charlotte, Homes for Sale
Yep see this over and over on reports!
Jan 01, 2013 02:51 AM #18
Christina Sanchez Hood
Palo Alto, CA
#SiliconValleyHOODS | Inspired Living

James, Happy New Year and Congrats on your feature!  My hubby is a contrctor and always states the same thoughts on measuring twice and cutting once.  Some things have not changed through history, indeed! 

Jan 01, 2013 03:16 AM #19
Mike Cooper, GRI
Cornerstone Business Group Inc - Winchester, VA
Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro

Oh boy, James, I see those kinds of crafty cuts fairly often in this area.  I guess we just don't appreciate true craftsman short cuts.  8-)

Jan 01, 2013 04:40 AM #20
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Gary, Couldn't said it any better :)

Doris, In this instance I think it was a plumber or at the very least a contractor. Makes it even more worrisome. 

Kathy, Thanks. Yes I would think not making a big notch would be clear to anyone, novice or professional.

Richard, Sure does.

Brian, I have to agree that is probably the thinking in some instances. 

Clint, Thanks, best of luck to you in 2013.

Fred, Happy new year to you too. I think it comes down to trust. You put a lot of trust in people you hire. Some do not live up to that trust. 

Ellie, Good goal. A sharp saw make easier work ;)

Richie, :)

Jan 01, 2013 10:25 PM #21
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Carol, Thank you for saying that. It has always been goal to educate. Happy new year to you too!

David, Thank you! A superb new year to you too!

Melissa, No it does not.

Gary, I agree.

Jay, The silence speaks the loudest :)

Charlie, You have to wonder.

Tom, They eventually find out.

Kenneth, What's easier isn't always in the code :)

Lori, Not surprised because I see it over and over too :)

Christina, Thanks, happy new year to you too. 

Mike, No, I guess we don't :)

Jan 01, 2013 10:34 PM #22
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, a Saw is a wonder yet can be a dangerous item in the wrong hands ; ) Plumber can have a little care for carpentry.

Jan 01, 2013 10:35 PM #23
Beth McIntyre
Keller Williams Realty - Simsbury, CT


You have the best posts! Do you generate all your own content? If so, my hat's off to you!

Jan 02, 2013 01:16 AM #24
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Don, Especially the electric saw :)

Beth, Thank you! Yes it is all my own content. 

Jan 02, 2013 01:48 AM #25
Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

Plumbers get blamed for cutting structure framing and it is often true, especialy with large diameter drains and pipes. Other trades compromise the same framing just as frequently but usualy their pass-throughs are smaller so the consequences are less damaging.

Jan 03, 2013 12:42 AM #26
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Robert, A plumber with a sawzall can mean trouble :)

Jan 03, 2013 08:53 PM #27
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Jim -- I really appreciate your "code check" illustration to help us better understand what you were talking about.

Jan 10, 2013 06:03 AM #28
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Steven, Pictures really do help. My clients also appreciate them :)

Jan 10, 2013 06:46 AM #29
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